NPR making changes to voice of underwriting credits

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Farhi

Farhi

NPR is moving announcer Sabrina Farhi out of her “primary” role reading its sponsorship credits, according to an email to member stations.

In the memo obtained by Current, Eric Nuzum, NPR’s v.p. of programming, wrote, “You may have noticed a new voice reading some NPR sponsorship credits in January. She is Jessica Hansen, formerly of WAMU [in Washington, D.C.], who has joined us to assist in this work.

“Over the remainder of February, you will start to hear Jessica’s voice more frequently. By the end of the month, she will be the primary voice heard in our on-air sponsorship credit reads.”

“We will be evaluating this arrangement, doing some research and assessment over the coming weeks,” Nuzum added.

NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara confirmed the addition of Hansen and that her role would last through the remainder of February. More information will be available, likely next week, said Lara, who would not comment on Farhi’s future with the network.

Farhi’s NPR bio credits her as “the voice of the NPR corporate sponsorship credits.” An email to Farhi’s NPR email address prompted an auto-reply that said she was out of the office and referred the writer to Hansen “for all funding credit needs.”

Farhi became the voice of NPR’s sponsorship messages in October 2013, taking over for Frank Tavares, who had voiced the credits for 31 years. Farhi beat out 429 applicants for the job, the New Yorker reported.

At the time, Nuzum said: “Out of hundreds of voices, Sabrina’s immediately stood out for its warmth and conversational approach. We think listeners and supporters will find her engaging.”

Farhi has been criticized for having vocal fry, defined by a Los Angeles–based voice doctor as “the low, vibratory sound that comes in some people’s speech, particularly at the end of sentences” that is particularly common among women.

The announcement of Farhi’s hire on NPR.org, accompanied by a sampler reel of her voice, prompted complaints about vocal fry. And founding Morning Edition editor William Drummond said on Current’s The Pub podcast last week that Farhi’s voice is “different in a pejorative sense.”

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  • RepublicanMasshole

    This is crazy. Sabrina has the best voice I’ve ever heard.

  • LAS

    To me, Sabrina’s voice was ok — it was the robotic, unnatural delivery that was hard to listen to. But the worst part, which made me turn off the radio when I’d hear her start to talk, was her ending every sentence on the same “note” — BBC announcers do that — as if all sentences must end on a B flat or something. I am so glad she is gone, it literally got to the point where I couldn’t listen to NPR.

    • Hank

      I completely agree. It got to the point where I couldn’t listen either for the same reason. I try to coach new talent not to do exactly what Sabrina did. Unfortunately, NPR has gone from the frying pan into the fire with their new choice. Whoever is making the casting decisions should be replaced by someone with radio experience. With so many good choices out there, they seem to keep picking the wrong voice every time.

  • Duffy Johnson

    I’m so sick of this non-issue of the so-called “vocal fry”. Ms. Farhi was doing a fine job as the funding credit voice (as is Ms. Hansen).

    • David Wilson

      It’s not the “vocal fry” that is the bothersome aspect of Hansen’s voice. Rather, it’s her incredibly annoying intonation and over enunciation of words like “station.” Over the decades I have heard hundreds of different, but highly pleasant and professional-sounding voices, but her voice immediately galled me to the point of now having to turn the volume down on my car radio every time I hear her saying “Support for NPR… [her “R” is elongated to sound like “Are-er”–say this out loud and you’ll see what I mean}, and, worse yet, “… comes from MEM-ber STAAAYY-SHUNS.” I looked at her lengthy list of (self-serving) credits in the industry and was totally surprised to see that she’s taken seriously as an expert in the use of voice. Lately, I thought I detected an attempt by NPR executives to get her to stop over-prounouncing/enunciating her lists of support credits, but then realized that it there had been a fix, this was at best only temporary. I haven’t stopped listening to NPR because I love it, but I also don’t know how much more of her idiotic and idiosyncratic voice I will be able to stand. So, in spite of your argument, this is not a non-issue. As a listener, it’s all about enjoying the spoken voice, or more precisely, spoken voices, as the many issues of our day are enunciated for the intelligent listening public (yes, with a Ph.D. and many years of lecturing to students I am one of that public).

  • VirgaDweller

    Thank you thank you thank you fo getting rid of Sabrina Farhi as sponsor announcer. Jessica Hansen is perfect replacement; melodious voice, variation in tone, rhythm; She’s a pleasure to listen to, whereas Farhi’s voice drove me up the wall and I’d nearly break a finger in my hurry to turn my radio OFF.

  • JoBlo

    Happy its her voice we hear. my god that girl is ugly.

  • The Great Santini

    On Sabrina Farhi,
    and the Fumblings of NPR’s Administrators:

    I understand that they don’t receive enough support, one way or the other.
    Are they budgeting themselves effectively? Perhaps there are areas that are unnecessarily expensive in NPR’s budget. What do their salaries look like?

    Regardless of the total minutes in a given hour that underwriting announcements now take up in absolute terms, their higher rate of incidence hasn’t gone unnoticed by listeners.

    And so but it appears that someone hadn’t thought this through properly, somewhere.
    And those who might have advised against it were either absent or ignored.

    I wasn’t aware of the below at the time, which I believe to be the source of the problem in the first place:
    http://fair.org/blog/2014/09/08/new-npr-boss-were-going-to-be-talking-about-brands-that-matter-a-little-bit-more/

    Underwriter announcements, where they were an unobtrusive part of the flow of NPR’s dulcet routine for listeners everywhere for years, were subtly injected with steroids and re-introduced to listeners with greater repetition, and importantly, at the same time that they introduced Farhi. She was used as a foil for this.

    I myself indeed found Farhi’s introduction a few years ago annoying in pretty short order, and I, like most of us out there, associated it with the new voice.

    I believe that NPR’s new head, upon deciding to subject listeners to what they didn’t miss about commercial radio and realising that this would have to be introduced as subtly as possible, figured that the distraction of a completely new voice in every way from Frank Tavares might be an effective way to do that.

    (here it might do us well to remember the vacillating which Coca-Cola undertook with its identity during the 1980s)

    However, I would venture that Farhi was terribly ill-served by those who managed her introduction, and that this derived from the crass new approach.

    I checked out her voice-over resume and listened to a few shorts of past work she had done, and I found them to be decidedly decent and non-annoying.

    Perplexing, considering how much irritation the underwriting announcements were causing.
    I had actually stopped listening to the radio altogether at this point, and had begun availing myself of net-streamed stuff instead.

    I know enough about voice acting to suspect that, in their effort to pack the hours with this new, ill-advised repetition, they savaged her takes until they had removed everything extraneous to the message of the sponsors, including such natural sounds as the taking of breath between the lines, etc., rendering her “dream job” a nightmare of listener recrimination and ridicule all round.

    Her voice was edited completely out of context to the talent that she possesses to accomodate this new, vulgar commercialisation.
    The extent of this desperate chopping might perhaps reflect the pressure that was behind it.

    Someone at NPR must have come to the same conclusions, for they’ve been more careful in their treatment of Jessica Hansen – and notice the decision to diversify the voices which deliver the same obtrusive, repetitive announcements.
    It’s not fooling everybody.
    Not everybody is inured to commercials, News Video Releases and astroturfing.

    This commercialisation trend is uncompromising, to be put before everything else, it seems.
    Such things are writing the future of NPR, either way.
    On Sabrina Farhi,
    and the Fumblings of NPR’s Administrators:

    I understand that they don’t receive enough support, one way or the other.
    Are they budgeting themselves effectively? Perhaps there are areas that are unnecessarily expensive in NPR’s budget. What do their salaries look like?

    Regardless of the total minutes in a given hour that underwriting announcements now take up in absolute terms, their higher rate of incidence hasn’t gone unnoticed by listeners.

    And so but it appears that someone hadn’t thought this through properly, somewhere.
    And those who might have advised against it were either absent or ignored.

    I wasn’t aware of the below at the time, which I believe to be the source of the problem in the first place:
    http://fair.org/blog/2014/09/08/new-npr-boss-were-going-to-be-talking-about-brands-that-matter-a-little-bit-more/

    Underwriter announcements, where they were an unobtrusive part of the flow of NPR’s dulcet routine for listeners everywhere for years, were subtly injected with steroids and re-introduced to listeners with greater repetition, and importantly, at the same time that they introduced Farhi. She was used as a foil for this.

    I myself indeed found Farhi’s introduction a few years ago annoying in pretty short order, and I, like most of us out there, associated it with the new voice.

    I believe that NPR’s new head, upon deciding to subject listeners to what they didn’t miss about commercial radio and realising that this would have to be introduced as subtly as possible, figured that the distraction of a completely new voice in every way from Frank Tavares might be an effective way to do that.

    (here it might do us well to remember the vacillating which Coca-Cola undertook with its identity during the 1980s)

    However, I would venture that Farhi was terribly ill-served by those who managed her introduction, and that this derived from the crass new approach.

    I checked out her voice-over resume and listened to a few shorts of past work she had done, and I found them to be decidedly decent and non-annoying.

    Perplexing, considering how much irritation the underwriting announcements were causing.
    I had actually stopped listening to the radio altogether at this point, and had begun availing myself of net-streamed stuff instead.

    I know enough about voice acting to suspect that, in their effort to pack the hours with this new, ill-advised repetition, they savaged her takes until they had removed everything extraneous to the message of the sponsors, including such natural sounds as the taking of breath between the lines, etc., rendering her “dream job” a nightmare of listener recrimination and ridicule all round.

    Her voice was edited completely out of context to the talent that she possesses to accomodate this new, vulgar commercialisation.
    The extent of this desperate chopping might perhaps reflect the pressure that was behind it.

    Someone at NPR must have come to the same conclusions, for they’ve been more careful in their treatment of Jessica Hansen – and notice the decision to diversify the voices which deliver the same obtrusive, repetitive announcements.
    It’s not fooling everybody.
    Not everybody is inured to commercials, News Video Releases and astroturfing.

    This commercialisation trend is uncompromising, to be put before everything else, it seems.
    Such things are writing the future of NPR, either way.

    • Giuliana S

      I think you hit the nail on the head. The underwriting announcements have gone from unobtrusive to overwhelming. Too many words, too frequent, and with an over-enunciated, overacted, over-directed, over-engineered voice, which by the way they seem to be continuing to tweak. May the sheer bullshittery of it all makes it impossible to do this job well. I mean, really, could you shill for Cancer Treatment centers of America with a straight face? Or spell out K-A-S-P-E-R-S-K-Y, when everyone knows an approximate Google search will get you there. I think NPR has jumped the proverbial shark.

  • Vanessad1

    Hansen is yet another annoyance. I wish she would stop
    taking a plain and simple “support for npr…” statement and trying to
    fill it with emotional expression that is unwarranted. She sounds just
    silly. Whoever is making the decision on voice announcers has terrible taste and seems unable to hire a truly professional sounding voice actor anymore. I am also getting fed up with so many of these announcements; put
    together with the local affiliate’s announcements, it gets to where I
    have to turn off the station because I can’t stand it anymore. They seem
    to be getting more frequent and by now I’d rather listen to a
    commercial station. At least the voices and messages are all varied.
    I’ve learned to hate public radio for its voices. There’s no escaping
    them, except to tune them out.

    • Brooke Richardson

      I totally agree with your assessment of Jessica Hansen. I noticed so many annoying announcements. I find myself turning the radio off just to avoid her emotional readings of advertising copy. I have never before found an announcers voice so irritating on NPR.

  • netgk

    I have been suffering with Hansen’s voice until I couldn’t take it anymore and had to find out who it was. UGGH! No kidding, I turn the radio down whenever she comes on if I’m within 5 feet of the radio. OK, first – she over-modulates her voice (my word for going up and down way too much in pitch), like she’s trying to be cute, as a flirting girl would do. Drives me nuts. I just want to tell her to go bat her eyelashes at someone else. Another thing – and this one I haven’t quite figured out – she’s either lingering too long at the ends of words, so instead of “parks” it would come out “parkssss” (I made up that example); and/or she’s inserting a pause between the ‘k’ and the ‘s’, so it comes out “park__sss” or something like that. Again, it sounds like merciless flirting. Also, when she was doing the natural gas plugs, she would really exaggerate the flat ‘a’ in “gas”, as if her mouth was 200% wide-open, so it came out “natural gaaaas.” The ‘a’ in “gaaaas” was much more pronounced than the one in “natural,” which I couldn’t figure out, because they should be the same sound. I don’t necessarily want her fired; her voice quality is good. But I don’t know if a person can learn to drop habits like this.

  • arkz

    Add me to list of folks who came here out of frustration with the current underwriting voice talent. I want to smash my car radio whenever I hear what I understand to be Jessica Hansen, hyper-modulating with such artificial style. It shouldn’t be like this — a natural personality would be fine, without such overly arch but transparent attempts at control. Seems like over-compensation for Farhi, whose amateurishness was at least more natural (if also grating). I’m prompted to comment here because I can’t escape Hansen online anymore either, ugh. Sure do miss Frank T. …

  • Dan McConnell

    Sabrina needs to go. I turn off NPR every time I hear the artificial lilting “quality” of her voice. Even a mediocre newby voice person is not as bad as this. Please take her off the air until she learns that NPR is a conversation with listeners not a performance piece.

    • Brad Deltan

      Ummm. This article is a year and a half old. I don’t think Ms. Farhi has voiced an underwriting on NPR for many months now.

      • MarkJeffries

        Hell, Current still gets comments on Jeff Smith decades after that all went down. What I find amusing is that people get so fed up over something that only lasts no more than a minute out of the hour in morning and afternoon drive and no more than ten seconds in most other hours of the day (I believe that WBUR and WHYY announcers do the funders on “Here and Now” and “Fresh Air”–and the hosts do the funders on the weekend shows [shouldn’t Bill Kurtis be doing them now on “Wait, Wait…” instead of Peter Sagal, since he never was an NPR News employee like Carl Cassel?]). I guess they still believe that public radio in the U.S. can be funded by a license fee like the BBC. Not in this country in this political atmosphere.

  • agiyo

    Whatever it is that you are doing with that commercial voice now, it is horrible, the worst, most repugnant BS on any medium. I’ve been a supporter for many years, still miss Bob and Carl, but when that cloying voice comes on, again and again with such garbage, I turn NPR OFF. for a long time. This is the most annoying alienating, unbearable garbage I can remember.

    • MarkJeffries

      Since when did Current magazine run NPR? And why is it “garbage?”

      • agiyo

        These comments are among many who intensely dislike the new, ever more cloying and insistent “Support for NPR comes from its member stations. And from…and from…and from…ad nauseum.” All that I have seen address that, not Current magazine, hoping that if there is anyone left in NPR management who cares, they might take notice. Nothing is certain but the rants.

        • MarkJeffries

          Please define “many.” And what do you offer instead to cover the lost revenue of 30 to 40 percent of the NPR budget–an annual license fee like in the UK? Good luck getting that through this Congress. And you are a professional broadcaster? Have you ever had to meet a payroll? Do you even work for a living?

          • agiyo

            I owe you nothing, sir, certainly not answers to your silly inferences. Bye bye.

  • agiyo

    The problem, I think, is not the voice. Whoever is speaking those messages is simply the messenger. The unbearable, insulting, turn-me-off-now beast is the boring, repetitive “support” blabs that replace useful content with commercials that are, in my personal opinion, counterproductive. I have supported NPR for decades, often when I could not afford it. I supported them in the field during the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, when my position as an NBC-TV field producer provided me valuable information we were glad to share. I am pledged for $20/month through this year. They are having a pledge drive now, I will send them a check for my remaining obligation and that will be IT. I will divert the money they apparently do not need, being more aligned with their corporate sponsors, to other more worthy and respectful entities.
    Too bad, NPR. You have become a real disappointment and I understand why some of your best people are bailing.

    • MarkJeffries

      And how many minutes an hour of commercials do commercial news-talk stations run compared to UNDERWRITING ANNOUNCEMENTS on public radio? A lot more and a lot more annoying than any public radio UNDERWRITING ANNOUNCEMENT.