Everyday Semiotics

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Voices for radio

The disembodied voices we hear on the radio sometimes take on, in our minds, bodies of their own. Or if not bodies, then at least some sort of aura that either coalesces or blows away when we see a photograph of the speaker in question.

Long ago and much to my chagrin I learned that Terry Gross, despite her intriguing voice, is not at all sexy looking. Diane Rehm, believe it or not, is way hotter.

About the time of the Sichuan earthquake, I logged on to npr.org to keep up with "All Things Considered," whose anchors happened to be right there. Somehow, Robert Siegel and Melissa Block looked exactly how I thought they should look.

The other day I found the directory of NPR personalities and clicked on the names of each host or reporter whose voice stands out for me. I can't say I had clear pictures of what I thought or wanted these people to look like; but each in real life is not what I expected.

Read the names, recall the voices, then click through. It's kind of a fun game. On the other hand, it's a little disappointing to have these larger-than-life voices suddenly embodied.

Tom Ashbrook (On Point): I like him more for his nimble thinking/summarizing/moderating style than for the quality or distinctiveness of his voice, but nonetheless...

Corey Flintoff (Iraq correspondent): He's got this unintentionally arrogant voice. Years ago whenever my dad and I would be listening in the car, we'd hear the signoff, "I'm Corey Flintoff," and my dad would add: "and you're not."

Michel Martin (Tell Me More): She's usually the first voice I hear when I get up, go about my morning routine, and head to work.

Michele Norris (All Things Considered): I would say she has the sexiest voice. The day after Thanksgiving she had the show all to herself, and the broadcast coincided for me with a long drive home. I was in heaven.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton (Africa correspondent): Amazing name and amazing accent, especially when she says "Dakar."

Kai Ryssdal (Marketplace): He sounds so slick I simultaneously hate him and want him to be my friend.

To conclude, here's the Dresden Dolls with a pained paean to a former NPR idol.

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