NPR extends contract for new underwriting voice

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NPR has extended through June the contract of Jessica Hansen, the new voice of its underwriting credits, according to an NPR spokesperson.

Sabrina Farhi, who previously voiced the credits, will no longer be heard on air but remains at NPR. “Sabrina continues to be an important part of the team,” NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara told Current in an email. “She’s producing and trafficking spots and working on some additional special projects.” Lara would not elaborate on the “special projects.”

NPR had previously told member stations that Hansen would be the “primary” voice of on-air sponsorship credits through the end of February. Farhi joined NPR in 2013, replacing Frank Tavares, who had voiced the credits for more than 30 years.

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  • Hank

    She sounds like a voiceover on a late night dating service commercial. Too salacious, not for npr.

    • Hank…clean your ears…she is fabulous…I stop everything just to listen to the way she entones words and crisply pronounces them..such a lilting voice…I’m in love. STICK WITH HER NPR..I just sent info to a new movie director who could use her…better hold onto a great VOICE. Take my word for it..I spotted Melissa Gray’s voice a long time ago..and now she’s an NPR staffer.

      • Hank

        Excuse me William but but having been a casting specialist for over 40 years I know what I’m talking about. Every word is over enunciated and with a flirtatious phony smile. NPR, GET RID OF HER!! Put on someone with some intelligence. Don’t be afraid of hiring an older, more experienced voice.

        • Find a new profession in retirement.

        • Duffy Johnson

          Wow. in spite of all your experience you clearly do NOT know what you’re talking about. Ms. Farhi did a fine job. And get your ears cleaned.

        • Pam Kress Dunn

          I can hardly bear to keep NPR on anymore. Thank you for articulating so well why her voice is so unbearable. She sounds like she’s very proud of her perfectly sung credits but also as though she is reading (sing-songing) it phonetically. She has really spoiled the pleasure of listening to my favorite programs. What a shame.

          • Hank

            Pam
            It seems you are on the right track. There are people commenting here that have a different agenda. Perhaps they are friends of Ms. Hansen or they are being paid in some way to defend her. They know nothing about NPR and its history. There seems to be a lack of professionalism now at NPR and its unfortunate. My local stations WNYC and WAMC do a lot better job of keeping the tradition of underwriting announcers that sound intelligent and appropriate.

          • Pam Kress Dunn

            Yes! Whenever I hear one of Iowa Public Radio’s announcers, I think, why can’t she (or he) do all the promotions?

          • Nick Brincks

            I’m one of the IPR voices. I hope I pass the test. :)

          • Pam Kress Dunn

            Hey Nick, I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier. You do a GREAT job on he IPR announcements. You give the facts in a voice that’s clear and warm but not at all obtrusive or in-your-face. I still turn the radio off when Ms. Hansen comes on. It’s like she’s doing a trailer in a movie theater, or a big, happy commercial in the middle of a serious drama on TV. It’s just so jarring. I sure wish you could do them for NPR!

          • Francois

            It does make me wonder who’s minding the shop. Are we trying to “appeal to a younger demographic”, all of a sudden, for example, and this is one of the first attempts? It just seems so incongruous.

            Also: is this the best channel to submit feedback about NPR’s current underwriting voice?

          • Brooke Richardson

            Agreed

          • Dan

            I also dread the credits because of her pretentious over-enunciation. Honestly, I switch stations when I hear her!
            BRING FRANK TAVARES BACK!!

      • I heard Melissa Gray when she was still in college at WUGA-FM…many years ago, Hankster.

      • Brooke Richardson

        Yes lilting and a stellar performance, as an actor not an announcer.

  • My name isn’t Bill, Hank. Perhaps you’ve been casting too long. If you are bitter about someone else who got bumped, perhaps that you have represented in the past, If you are annoyed..and I am overjoyed..perhaps we cancel each other out…I too have been teaching for 40 years and I know what i hear. Your choice of the world ‘salacious’ tells me you are bitter enough to use such an inappropriate word just to sink a fine talent’s chances. I have just recommended her for an upcoming film to the young director with three successful films to his credit, and now a new one with two big stars. So, the use of that word, a filthy description, indicates that my ‘clean your ears’ might extend further into the mind. So, goodnight, and please don’t darken my mood again. Jessica’s voice as well as Melissa’s years ago are both more engaging that the young woman who just lost this gig…for her I truly feel sorry..but she is still employed with NPR. Have a nice night.

    • Hank

      Sure thing Bill

    • Giuliana S

      How about unctuous, Wm.? May I call you Wm.? Jessica Hansens’s unctuous overenunciation sends me to chance the station every time. I think she is also over-directed, and over-engineered. Even the ambient sound, or lack of it, sets the announcements in sharp relief against the programming. I believe this is purposeful and I resent NPR for playing their audience like that.

      • Francois

        Yep. I listen to my local affiliate (VPR) far less often, and am approaching withdrawing financial support. It’s almost as if NPR is falling on its sword as social media and web-based news take over.

  • Dave

    Jessica Hansen has got to go! The English language does not have an upward inflection at the end of a sentence.
    Her voice is “politically correct” sounding very non-commital and intentionally dishonest.
    For me its just another reason to completely remove radios from my life, the last straw for NPR, the last radio station worth listening to.

    • Tess

      Has her contract been extended? It was supposed to end in June.

  • Aaron Read

    After following the vocal fry “controversy” quite a lot over the last year or so, I’ve found that most of the discussion is about 10% pathology/biology and about 90% misogyny. So far nothing in these comments is convincing me otherwise.

    • Pam Kress Dunn

      As a woman I assure you my negative response to her voice has nothing to do with misogyny. If anything, I feel sorry for her, using her practiced vocals to sell sponsors she does not seem to understand. “A solution for nanny payroll…” Jessica! Stop!

  • Craig

    Yes, she over-emotes over neutral copy which completely distracts from the message. Please, NPR, rethink this voice that appears on air several times every hour.

  • Francois

    My family has been involved with public broadcasting at the executive level, nationally, for nearly seventy years. I am sure that Jessica could find a place somewhere in NPR but, please, not here. The stakes are just too high and the media alternatives too numerous to allow her vocal persona to have an impact this big. To maintain our credibility across multiple listener cohorts we absolutely must not pander. That means, even if she has the skill to do it, we must not infantilize our listeners by making, say, AT&T sound like coconut custard with cherries and cream on top. When she describes the virtues of Kaspersky Lab, it’s like having her tongue in my ear, and I mean that only unkindly to her supervisors at NPR. If you must keep her, I implore you to dial it down. The impact of her salacious tone, heightened by its ubiquity is, at best, self-defeating. Please..

    • Roger Earl

      Hank, Dave, Craig, & Francois: I’ve been an NPR listener since the mid-70’s and I have to agree with all of you 100%. Jessica Hansen has one of the most annoying deliveries I can ever recall hearing from an announcer—not only on NPR, but in the world of broadcasting. Every time I hear her voice, I immediately reach for the volume and turn it down. I simply can’t take it. I can’t believe anyone at NPR would think she is an appropriate voice (let alone “the” appropriate voice) to represent the network. I’m sure there are plenty of advertising firms that would hire her for VO work where the slant is sophomoric, and the target audience is open to her brand of bubbly, affected blather—but keep her off the NPR airwaves! It’s one of our last bulwarks of respectability in terms of broadcasting standards…perhaps the last, before we slip into total “Idiocracy.”

      • MarkJeffries

        Bet you wouldn’t say that if she was a man.

        • Francois

          Well, in the end, this matter really isn’t about sexism or misogyny. Male and female voice-over professionals are equally capable of erring when it comes to matching tone to a listener demographic. That is why they need close supervision and guidance; it’s very hard to modify a persona that you’ve labored, for years, to develop. And Jessica has obviously worked hard to refine a sophisticated, marketable voice product, even though I think it is a harmful choice for NPR. And she is struggling, you can tell. In the last couple of weeks she has made some huge adjustments. In fact, I’d say the percentage of inappropriate upward inflections (that come across as pandering or sophomoric) has been reduced by about a third. Hopefully, this will continue until they get it right.

          • Aaron Read

            Yes it is. It ALWAYS is. Even if you think it’s not, it is. There are massive unconscious biases in play here and unless you account for them, no matter how fair or rational you think you’re being? You’re just making rationalizations after the fact. This is not a value judgment, it’s raw human nature. And the sooner people understand that, the sooner we can stop arguing over things that do not matter and instead get at the meat of the problem.

            The story of Abbie Conant and the Munich Philharmonic, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”, is an excellent example of this. It wasn’t until orchestras started using true blind auditions…making it impossible for sexism to play a role in judging a candidate’s musical ability…that orchestras started admitting women at a rate at least vaguely approaching parity.

            http://www.osborne-conant.org/ladies.htm

            Unfortunately, I’m not sure how one could actually do a bias-free judgment of a credits reader, because I don’t think there’s any way you can strip enough auditory information out of a demo tape to erase the tenor of a voice that designates it as “male” or “female” without simultaneously destroying the audio fidelity of the demo in the process.

            So we have an uncomfortable choice here: do we stay true to the moral values of public radio and insist that the maleness/femaleness of a credits reader does not matter…and risk alienating a given percentage of listeners who, no matter what they consciously profess will always have unconscious biases against a woman in this role? Or do we risk violating our values (and maybe the law) and instead hire strictly on effectiveness as measured by the audience….which demands a (for lack of a better way of putting it) a bland-sounding white-ish guy with a very slight midwestern accent?

      • Hank

        YES!!!!!

  • Aaron Read

    A thought has occurred to me, although it’s entirely possible that this is “reaching” quite a bit…but bear with me.

    There is a known issue with the codec used for HD Radio transmissions and many female voices. NPR Labs actually did a lot of research into this, as did NAB. It stems from the issue that the “HDC” codec is a thinly-disguised version of the old AAC codec. AAC is great at a lot of things, but it can mangle certain female voices if not pre-processed rather carefully. This issue was found to not be problem with male voices; presumably the greater energy at frequencies in the “bass” range of most male voices helped neutralize the issue as far as the codec was concerned.

    And HD Radio isn’t the only place where AAC can wreak havoc; there’s stations out there using IP-based methods of audio delivery to their transmitters, and some of them can and do use AAC as the codec. (Comrex BRIC Links, for example) That could affect regular analog AM/FM transmissions, too.

    Plus lest we forget, ALL of NPR’s content is already being encoded as it passes through the ContentDepot satellite delivery system. It uses MPEG1-Layer2 (aka “MP2”, a close cousin of MPEG1-Layer3 which is more typically known as “MP3”) encoding at 128kbps mono/256kbps stereo. A major reason that codec was chosen was because it helps minimize the problems with cascading algorithms (re-encoding audio that’s already been encoded) but there’s no getting around the fact that MPEG, AAC, HDC are all “lossy” codecs that throw away audio information. Every time you encode a piece of audio that’s already been through a lossy codec, you’re going to increase the odds of audio problems.

    (one of many reasons why uncompressed audio is always the preferred way to go if you can swing the bandwidth necessary for it)

    I wonder how possible, if not likely, the reason why people are reacting so negatively to Hansen’s and Fahri’s voices is because the codecs aren’t playing nice with their voices…which is something largely outside their personal control.

    • Private Porkster

      I think it would be an interesting and convenient explanation for the kind of vitriol expressed in the comments here, but I think it simply boils down to individual opinion and perception.

      As somebody who is currently working in public radio, here’s what I believe:

      1. The majority of people who listen to NPR that I’ve talked to, casual or super-fans, either don’t mind her voice or haven’t even really noticed. In fact, I think Jessica’s voice in some ways is less distracting from Frank’s (he’s a legend and I love his funding credits, but it was very distinctive).

      2. If the majority of listeners and NPR affiliate directors did not like Jessica’s credits, she would already be gone. I don’t think the top brass would keep around a funding voice that I’m sure could be very easily replaced by a number of other talented voices.

      Not that the opinions expressed here aren’t valid, I just think they represent a minority of listeners. From what I can tell on this article, most of the commenters are objecting to her inflection, which is mostly a matter of opinion anyway.

    • Giuliana S

      I think there is a simpler answer. NPR’s intention is for the announcements to be obtrusive. I have had no issues listening to the likes of Silvia Poggioli, Eleanor Beardsley, and other unique female radio voices. NPR seems to be doing a full-out Jessica Rabbit Via Henry Higgins this time around.

      • Eulogia

        I second your statement. I find myself turning the dial every time Jessica Hansen’s voice begins. To me, it is not that she “over-emotes” as a previous commentator stated, but rather that she sounds too white and elitist to my ears (OMG, is that NPR’s core support group?! lol). But frankly, it has gotten to the point where I CAN’T STAND listening to her!!

  • Dave

    Wow, I’m not the only one that hears the warbling. I love the complete and succinct enunciation of every word, just can’t stand the intentional dishonesty. No doubt Jessica is a wonderful person. And she has a beautiful voice. The problem, for me, is the placating, unnatural inflection thing.
    I wince at the “strawberries and cream” on topness, and instinctively reach for the radio. Guess I haven’t stopped listening. I have noticed a bit less warbling.
    I listen to Wyoming PR mostly. There’s a young lady for a news reader here. Her voice is beautifully female and unengineered. Thanks for the good discussion and, aside from one female commenter’s attempt to derail it (into a sexism discussion, which it is not), I find it very helpful to know I’m not alone!
    There are not alot of folks in Wyoming. Thanks.

  • Dan McConnell

    I agree with Hank…it’s unbearable.

    • MarkJeffries

      Would you be saying that if she was a man?

      • Francois

        The gender bias side of this self-defeating talent choice has already been beaten to death in this discussion. And for me at least, two things are clear: 1) not every delivery style preference is reduceable to gender issues, or race issues for that matter. 2) what Hansen does is starkly incongruous with the overall tone of ATC. (And you don’t have to be misogynistic to think so, for pity’s sake.)

        • MarkJeffries

          Did you hate the Magliozzis and Michael Feldman as well? Why do you want everyone on public broadcasting to sound like a pompous elitist snob?

          • Francois

            No hating on this end; just disagreement with a talent choice. But I think you do not like NPR so much…

          • MarkJeffries

            Perhaps the question is why are you making such a big deal about a minute of air time an hour for a few hours a day and 10 seconds an hour most of the rest of the day (except for BBC World Service in the overnights on a lot of stations).

          • Francois

            Again, I think you do not like, or listen to NPR so much. (There are no pompous, elistist snobs really, unless you wish to pick a fight.) Also, you might want to actually add up the underwriting air time too. Each underwritIng insert is more like thirty seconds, and there are multiple per hour.

  • Leslie

    I turn down the volume whenever this new voice “talent” ( and I use the word loosely) comes on. She’s absolutely terrible

    • Tess

      Completely agree. Hansen’s delivery is unbearable. I switch over to CSPAN when she comes on and sporadically switch back. Please, NPR, rethink this voice that is now on all NPR platforms, podcasts, etc.

    • Francois
  • Brooke Richardson

    Please get rid of the new announcer for “Support for NPR” announcements. She is not material for this kind of work. This is an actress who wants to act, not read announcements. The result is an irritating misplacement of emotion specifically joy into passages that should be innocuous. I find myself turning the station just to avoid this unpleasant experience.

    • Francois

      My views on this are posted throughout this forum. (Yes, it’s unbearable and a betrayal of listen loyalty.) At this point though what probably needs to happen is for her boss to get the memo. Not sure how to do that.

  • Brad Deltan

    Doesn’t Disqus have a means of “locking” comments after a set amount of time has passed? It’s ridiculous that an 18 month old story is still attracting petty cheap shots from people more interested in being catty (or one might even say “bitchy” or perhaps “misogynistic”) about Hansen’s voice.