You’ve heard them. Maybe while you’re driving down the road, listening to your favorite station, the music is suddenly interrupted by a block of radio commercials. They can be frustrating when all you want is to listen to some good music that gets you through rush hour or a long-distance drive. But even if you’re not really interested in what the commercials are selling, many of them hold your attention for one reason—the voice narrating the ad is instantly recognizable.
Some of the most recognizable voices on the radio aren’t just in commercials, though. They may belong to nationally syndicated DJs, or hosts of popular talk radio or news shows. The point is, as soon as you hear their voice, there’s no mistaking the person’s identity. Here are just a few of the people you may hear on the radio, and recognize on first listen.
You may not know his name, but you definitely know his voice. Don LaFontaine was not just any voice actor—he was known throughout the industry as “The Voice.” If you ever heard a movie trailer, whether on the radio or on TV, that started with, “In a world…” that was him. It became first his trademark, and then fodder for parodies, many of them done by LaFontaine himself. Sadly, LaFontaine passed away in 2008, but he remains one of the best known voice actors in entertainment history.
Tune in to NPR, and you’ll hear numerous recognizable voices that have become staples in many American homes around the world. Garrison Keillor regales us with stories from Lake Wobegon. Peter Sagal tests our knowledge of current events. And Ira Glass shares with us stories from “This American Life.” In addition to giving us a unique glimpse inside the lives of everyday people, Glass makes his own mark with his clipped delivery, and his standout voice.
With a 30-year career in public radio under his belt, Glass has learned how to create riveting stories heard over the airwaves. He took that experience a step further by producing a This American Life series for Showtime in 2007. Now Glass is taking the show further still by teaming up with actor Owen Wilson to turn a particularly interesting segment of “This American Life” into a series. We can only hope Glass will be narrating.
The last of the big-time radio DJs from the era of Dick Clark and Wolfman Jack, Casey Kasem counted down his last American Top 40 show in 2009. The show was a weekend radio staple for 39 years, and Kasem’s retirement came as a shock to fans around the world. But Kasem was around for much longer, and did a lot more than host one radio show. In addition to television and radio commercials, he hosted TV shows, and appeared as a guest in several others.
He also performed the voices of numerous cartoon characters, most famously, that of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo’s sandwich-loving best friend. American Top 40, which Kasem co-created, is still on the air today, now hosted by Ryan Seacrest. But those who grew up with AT40 in the ’70s and ’80s will always remember Casey and his long-distance dedications.
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Rush Limbaugh has one of the most recognizable voices on radio. Limbaugh started his radio career at the age of 16, and has remained on the air ever since. Early in his career, he was a music disc jockey. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that he ventured into talk radio, replacing Morton Downey, Jr. on a station in Sacramento, CA. Just four years later, he went national, and today, he hosts the highest-rated show on talk radio in the United States.
Limbaugh is no stranger to controversy, but in early 2012, may have finally done irreparable damage to his show and his reputation when he went on a three-day offensive against a Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, who had testified before Congress in support of insurance coverage mandates that would cover contraceptives. His show suffered a loss of revenue as advertisers began pulling their ads despite Limbaugh’s subsequent apology (which many felt was insincere). He remains a recognizable radio figure, but his longevity may now be in question.
These diverse careers and personalities prove that even in today’s world of Internet-based media, radio is still a viable medium through which to communicate and gain recognition. And the next time you hear a voice you recognize on the air, remember not to count radio out just yet.
Sarah Stockton is an Outreach Coordinator for Voices.com, a site connects businesses with professional voice talents. She enjoys helping potential voice talent find their start in the voice industry.
yes, ira, casey and rush are recognizable, but i find it more interesting the people we dont know, or the voices we recognize in commercials et al, peter coyote, et al. i ‘d like to hear more about the anonymous stars of voice.
and by the way, recognizable is not enjoyable. my wife listens to him while we drive, but ira’s voice makes me want to shoot the radio and every time i hear garrison keilor i wish someone would give that guy an inhaler.
I used to do a lot of voice work and I envy the guys who can make a living at it. My straight read voice is a little odd, I think, so I was always better at the character stuff than the more conventional voiceovers. Still, loved it and would do it full-time if I could.
I always like hearing who’s doing audio work that you might not expect. For instance, I hear Thomas Hayden Church a lot, and not always in the sorts of goofy stuff you’d expect from his acting. Christian Slater has been hot lately, too.