The Pub, Episode 5: End of the vocal fry debate, Jacki Lyden on fashion, and lessons from commercial media

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If you’re reporting on things that are really relevant to people’s lives, then pegs for your stories will drop out of the sky, whether you plan for them or not. Just report on the right stuff, get ready to publish or air it whenever it’s ready, and a related news event will happen that’ll make your work appear timely.

That’s an excellent piece of advice I got a few years ago from Anthony Brooks, co-host of Radio Boston on WBUR (a show I used to work on) and an NPR alum. I thought of it this week as I was writing a follow-up to last week’s episode of The Pub, in which we discussed discrimination against certain voice qualities within public media.

While all of my guests agreed that vernacular, regional or ethnic dialects among reporters, commentators and hosts should not only be tolerated but embraced, it seems there is one vocal attribute against which it is still OK to discriminate — vocal fry.

So I was working on a riff that would explain, in pretty technical terms, what exactly fry is and why I think there’s nothing wrong with it. But since I was working on this thing days after the Pub episode that inspired it, and more than a week after This American Life took on the subject, I was worried it might sound dated by the time we posted today’s episode.

But if you’re writing about the right stuff, a peg will happen. In this case, NPR officials revealed in an email to stations Monday that Sabrina Farhi — a noted vocal fryer — is out as the primary underwriting voice on the network. They declined to comment when Current asked why, or what this means for Farhi’s job.

There may be plenty of legitimate reasons for NPR brass to remove Farhi, whom they anointed with great fanfare less than two years ago as the successor to Frank Tavares and his 31-year legacy in the job. But man, I hope her vocal fry, or the many misguided audience complaints they’ve received about her fry, isn’t among them.

On this week’s episode of The Pub, I will attempt to finally put the great vocal fry debate to bed . . . with science. Once you understand it, you’ll stop hating it, I promise.

Also in the show:

  • A great conversation with former NPR host Jacki Lyden about her new micro-news organization The SEAMS, which reports on fashion, a topic she never felt got the respect it deserved at her old gig
  • West Virginia Public Broadcasting CEO Scott Finn, fresh off his Punch Sulzberger fellowship at Columbia Journalism School, will share five things that he thinks public media can learn from commercial media
  • Now that The Pub is a month old, we’ll examine its reception, and talk about how you can help it thrive

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at ragusea_ac@mercer.edu or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to aragusea@gmail.com, either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.
  • Gollum

    The explanation of vocal fry told me nothing I didn’t know, and did nothing to lessen my annoyance with excessive fryers.

    BTW, I notice that Jacki Lyden doesn’t do the fry!

    The public radio host that I might find the most annoying is Guy Raz of the Ted Radio Hour. I liked the show at first. But Guy Raz’s incessant tone of amazement, with it’s constant squeak/creak/fry, makes it hard for me to listen. Mr. Raz’s presentation seems ripe for parody. Just imagine him delivering this: “We’ve all heard that the sky is blue. But what about those times when the sky is grey? Well. It turns out. If you ride in an airplane on a grey-sky day… As the the airplane goes higher… It rises through a fog, which are clouds, and then… At some point, it rises *above* the clouds, and you will see… Amazingly, the sky is still blue!”

    • Judy Drexel

      I agree. It’s more than the fry. It is the lilting, sing-song inflection used by Farhi and now Jessica Hansen. However, what galls me even more is the way that NPR sticks up for these losers, making all kinds of excuses and trying to diminish the legitimate complaints of many listeners. I am really surprised that NPR got rid of Farhi. I would have expected them to defend her to the death, as they undoubtedly will Hansen. Because of this arrogance I no longer listen to NPR. It has ceased to be relevant to my life.

    • Chuck Kahn

      Yes. Can we start a petition to replace that annoying voice onTED Radio Hour?