Trish Bertram is one of THE best “voices” in the TV business. She is also a good friend and you are about to get the privilege of hearing her words of wisdom on the subject of being a continuity announcer. Trish knows her side of the business inside and out so if you’ve ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of the bits between the programes or fancied the job of a voiceover artist then you’re in the right place. Read on….
“Love them or hate them, they are the anonymous voices you hear every time you switch on the telly. But there is a little bit more to tv continuity announcing than what you actually hear. If you’ve ever fancied giving it a go, hopefully I can offer you some pointers you may not have thought of.
I started as a tv announcer in 1982. It was a very different tv landscape then. You could either work for the BBC (1 or 2) or one of the regional stations around the ITV network. Channel 4 was about to launch. In those days a clear speaking voice with no discernible accent and calm confidence while working live were the main requirements.
These days announcers are still live on the larger channels (although not many viewers realise that) but times have changed and they come in a wonderful variety of lilts. Regional accents give a channel flavour, colour and vibrancy but it’s still important that what an announcer says is clear and coherent.
Over the years I developed my own continuity philosophy. I believe these basic principles remain the same today:
a) YOU ARE A VERBAL SIGNPOST for the viewer to your programme schedule- giving clear information and providing a smooth transition between one programme and the next
b) YOU ARE THE AMBASSADOR & MOUTHPIECE for your station – you are part of your company’s corporate image and identity. If YOU sound bored or tired -so will your station……if you sound enthusiastic, modern and fresh….so will your station.
c) And YOU ARE A SALESMAN for your company’s product -its programmes. The first rule of any good salesman? BELIEVE in your product.
Sometimes you’ll be asked to ‘sell’ the idea of watching a programme that you personally wouldn’t choose to watch at home.
It’s not up to you to pre-judge in your choice of words or tone of voice whether a soap or a movie or a home-video clip show isn’t your favourite programme in the world. It may not be to YOU…but to someone else it will be…..
So… it’s up to YOU to create a personal connection with your viewer and in your tone of voice and choice of words promote your station’s programmes and the idea that YOUR station is the BEST one to watch.
1. GOOD GENERAL KNOWLEDGE with a grasp of news & current affairs. You will inevitably be introducing news, current affairs programmes and documentaries so being aware of the news of the day is a must.
2. INTELLIGENCE This job isn’t as easy as it looks! You will also be writing your own scripts so good literacy skills are a must.
3. ENTHUSIASM FOR TELEVISION and THE JOB:
You will need to be aware of your station’s output and that of your competitors and have an understanding of your station’s marketing & corporate strategy.
4. CALMNESS & A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY. Never forget you are the mouthpiece of your channel.
5. STAMINA You will often work public holidays, unsocial hours and long shifts. The myth that the announcer swans off to the bar inbetween programmes is just that. You must be constantly alert in case of transmission breakdowns. When the telly goes wrong YOU will be the first person the viewer hears with an appropriate apology. It’s up to you to be ready to keep your viewer informed at all times…..which brings me to
6. QUICK REACTIONS…. when things go wrong in tv they go wrong very quickly!
7. THE ABILITY TO WORK IN A TEAM. Very important…you are NOT the STAR. Your station is the STAR…you are part of the team. Not just your fellow announcing team, the team you are part of will consist of editorial presentation staff who will brief you on any issues you need to be aware of before your shift ( eg a late change of schedule, or the possibility of a live OB overrunning ) and, once in the studio, your transmission crew who are responsible for your station’s output on air.
Back in the mists of time, with no experience whatsoever but plenty of naive enthusiasm, I grabbed a tv guide, wrote some very basic continuity links, recorded them on a cassette and sent it everywhere I could think of. I still have my ‘reject file’ to this day. But it only takes one lucky break. Right on my doorstep London Weekend Television was looking for a local ‘emergency’ announcer they could train up and then call on at short notice. I was asked to audition. I was terrible. But they spotted some potential in me and my proximity to the station was the lucky factor that got me in. I really was that person off the street.
My announcer colleagues over the years have largely come from an acting background or a radio background. I had no background in either. I was a theatre stagemanager. So if I can do it. So can you.
These days you still need to demonstrate your voice but also, and perhaps more importantly, your writing skills. Continuity has developed over the years from ‘that was, now it’s, coming up next it’s…’. Television is much more marketing led than it was when I started so you need to have an awareness of the channels you would like to approach.
Listen to the announcers of each channel – they will all have their own styles but they will be working within the marketing strategy and brand identity of their channels.
For example: the announcers you hear on BBC 3 will be very different to the ones you hear on BBC4 .
So – factors to consider: is the channel’s demographic ‘young’ or older? Is it a serious channel, a ‘family’ channel, a comedy channel? Is it a channel that predominantly reflects its audience? No point in approaching STV if you have a Welsh accent or S4C if you are from Newcastle!
Decide if you want to work ‘live’ – in which case approach and target BBC1 & 2 or ITV or Channels 4 or 5. If live isn’t for you – there are a multitude of digital channels which pre-record their announcers.
Write some links and record a showreel demonstrating your continuity style for the channels you wish to approach. I would advocate targeting each station as opposed to a one size fits all.
These days you can record into your computer with a good basic mic and send MP3s. The quality is good enough without having to pay for recording. Your future employer isn’t so much listening out for a golden toned voice but a voice and writing style that will reflect their output and fit their current announcing team.
Do your homework and find out who is the person to send that email and MP3 to (or CD if they prefer) at each station. It could be a Continuity Manager, the station’s On Air Creative Director or even a member of the Marketing department. Don’t worry if there are no vacancies at present – the important thing is to get heard and hopefully filed for future reference.
You never know when things will change in your favour. Stations relaunch themselves, announcers move on or sometimes a station wants to refresh its freelance list and is prepared to audition and train new voices. Get in as a freelance and you will be in the best position to apply if a full time contract comes up.
Just remember – all it takes is one person somewhere to like what they hear so put a little bit of thought, effort and tailormade targeting into the links you write and how you deliver them and hopefully that will be you.
I hope this has given you some useful tips. Next time you watch tv make a point of listening to the rich variety of announcers we have today. The really good ones are comfortable to listen to. They encapsulate and reflect the style of their stations and the mood of the programme you have chosen to watch. It’s much more than ‘verbal wallpaper’. And without them there would be a big gap in our tv watching experience!”
Trish Bertram started her announcing career in 1982 with LWT and has worked for a variety of stations as a live announcer including Superchannel, TVS, British Satellite Broadcasting, BBC World, ITV and Channel 5 and as a pre-recorded announcer for many more. She has also been responsible for training numerous announcers for the television industry.
You can follow Trish on Twitter @TrishVoice or check out her website at: