The death of Casey Kasem allowed America to look back and see just how influential his voice really was in the world of radio and voiceovers. In fact, you could say he was perhaps the very model of how radio voices of the last 50 years were shaped when you consider radio voices have basically sounded alike for decades. While some may say that radio DJ’s sound that way because they’re taught to sound similar when studying in school, all the radio DJ’s of the past obviously evolved the sound of everyone else.
Those who only knew Kasem on radio in the last several decades probably didn’t know that he was already shaping how people sounded on the radio back in the 1950s. Considering his considerable voice work in animated TV shows, plus other voiceovers for network bumpers, and commercials, every announcer you hear now seems to have a little bit of Kasem inside their voice box.
But is Kasem’s voice still influential, or was it a product of a different era in radio and overall voiceovers? You have to analyze what he did in order to see what today’s new voiceover artists are possibly taking from him, and possibly going in very different directions.
The Techniques of Radio and TV Voiceovers
One of the undeniable key elements of being a successful radio DJ or TV voiceover artist is sounding natural rather than affected. Kasem broke that mold in his earliest days after decades of radio announcing being overly bombastic and affected during the era when radio was the primary source of entertainment. Even radio DJ’s who played music during the day starting in the 1950s became a little bombastic, especially in the early days of rock n’ roll. Some of them went with outrageous personalities that ultimately became legendary, like Wolfman Jack.
While some of this persisted into the 1970s on radio, Kasem was bringing more of a natural way of DJ’ing that didn’t involve histrionics. It was calm and collected and eventually led to many more doing that later. For someone doing this with Top 40, it was also revolutionary. By the time Kasem started hosting his Top 40 countdown show in 1970, many more DJ’s were talking in softer voices, and not just when on the a.m. shift.
DJ’s Personalizing Their Comments
We all know Kasem nearly patented the idea of giving the feeling of talking to someone directly rather than to the masses. To this day, you’ll still find some radio DJ’s who talk to everybody rather than giving the illusion of talking directly to one person. The best DJ’s, though, sound like they’re talking to you. With Kasem perfecting this by reading letters from listeners and dedicating a song to someone across the nation or overseas, he brought direct contact with listeners for the first time. This seemed to evolve the concept of DJ’s taking phone calls, plus the talk show format of doing the same (as risky as it is when live).
Are Today’s Announcers Sounding Too Natural?
There may be a considerable shift more recently in what we expect of a radio announcer or TV voiceover. While Kasem was the bridge between the bombastic announcers and the more natural school, naturalism has now gone more extreme in the last decade. We’re at the point now where many radio DJ’s and TV voiceovers in commercials sound like someone still in puberty rather than a mellifluous voice.
This is obviously intentional to give the feel of the “regular guy” in radio and TV voiceovers. If you listen to local DJ’s on your local radio stations, they don’t all have the greatest radio voices either. It’s all in their manner of presentation, which is presumably entertaining.
That regular guy persona is still a direct line to Kasem, though, because he was a hybrid of the mellifluous voice with the regular guy timbre. You can hear a little bit of Casey Kasem in all those less trained voices. Most of all, it’s the noted genuineness of Kasem that’s the key all voiceover schools will probably teach now. It no longer matters what you sound like and more about how much people believe you. For many, knowing that what Kasem said on radio truly was genuine and not just an act, it’s a good sense of direction for all future voiceover and radio DJ’s.
Yes, people have a good radar to when someone is truly genuine when they speak and when they’re not. Hopefully producers hiring the next announcers like Kasem will sense that in their new upstarts.