I wrote this as a podcast thread last week, but thought it was worth re-visiting a little more here.
If there is one thing I hate in many podcasts (or radio programmes), it’s a presentation style that I would describe as overly mannered.
What I’m talking about is a podcast that’s likely to be scripted, but where the delivery is over-emphasised, often in an attempt to sound empathetic.
There is one podcast – no names, no pack drill – that I’m getting close to stopping listening to at all, because although the subject matter is fascinating, and it explores subjects I’m really interested in, the presenter speaks in such a s-l-o-w deliberate and affected manner that it becomes painful to listen to.
Other examples are those voices that feel like they should instead be reading a story to a kindergarten class. While podcasts are said to always be about telling stories (except that sometimes that’s not true, but we’ll park that thought for another day), they don’t need to adopt the same vocal stylisations of a presenter of Jackanory or Story Time on CBeebies.
This certainly isn’t an attach on scripted podcasts. And nor is it an attack on high production values. I don’t think every podcast should adopt the soundscape that a series like Radiolab creates, but I would certainly not complain about beautiful layered audio.
I think the problem with stilted or unnatural delivery tones stems in part from a kind of ‘learned behaviour’ that almost certainly derives from US public radio. I’m not a historian of US public radio, but I suspect that this kind of delivery has become the standard for many years.
And of course, much of the talent in, especially, the US podcasting sector today, was honed and trained in a US public radio sphere. That’s no doubt changing, but I still feel that a certain tone of voice is what is expected, and so is what is delivered.
To give a related example, consider the Smashie and Nicey characters created by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. That trans-atlantic ‘pop-tastic’ style was a vicious take on a generation of pop DJs on British radio who honestly did speak like that. It became the norm until it became a parody of itself. Yes, radio presenters have always ‘turned it on’ to an extent when the mic goes live, but that was an era when presenters were practically making up new personas.
Note that these kinds of ‘learned behaviours aren’t unique to US public radio. In the past the same could be said to be true for many Radio 4 presentation and delivery styles. I think they’re less of a problem now, but I know that some, for example, struggle with the generic delivery of British radio drama.
I’m also absolutely not talking about so-called ‘Vocal Fry’ which some listeners seem to take exception to. You have the voice that you have. I’m talking about speech patterns as much as anything else.
I know that reading from a script can be a challenge. There are elements of annunciation, the forcefulness of delivery and tone of voice to get right. But just because others have a certain tone of voice, it doesn’t mean that those should be adopted by all.
With podcasts in particular, listeners have made a conscious choice to hear the output, and they’re often listening directly via headphones.
I just want podcast and radio presenters to be a little more original, and mostly natural.