Thursday, May 17

Fingernails on the Blackboard

I heard it again today. It drives ma crazy! You’d think I’d be used to it by now. You hear it everywhere. No one complains. No one but me. And I’m right. The “Radio Reader” told me so!

A talk-show host on one of our local stations, WILK, went to a commercial break saying, “This is Dub-You-I-L-K.”

The 23rd letter of the alphabet is pronounced duhb-uhl-yoo. I learned that from Dick Estell in my first (and only) radio announcing class at Michigan State in the mid-sixties. Recognize the name? Dick still appears on many public radio stations every day reading books as “The Radio Reader.” Today you can buy audio books narrated by Dick Estell, but the truth is that reading books on-air goes back to the beginnings of radio. Michigan State’s radio station, WKAR, had a daily reading show as far back as the mid-1930s. Larry Frymire was “The Radio Reader” for twenty years. When he retired in 1964 WKAR’s young General Manager, Dick Estell, took over the duties—in addition to running the station and teaching classes. Dick was instrumental in the formation of National Public Radio and served as board Chairman from 1972-74. Even though he retired from MSU in 1986, he continues to produce “The Radio Reader” from his home.

On our very first day in Dick’s class he had each of us tape a mock newscast for WKAR. When he critiqued mine, he taught me two valuable lessons.

First, he told me to look at the letter “W” and see it for what it is: a double-“U.” Got it! I was reporting for Double-You-K-A-R, not Dub-You-K-A-R.

Then he asked, “If a cow moos and a kitten mews, how do you pronounce N-E-W-S?” Got it! It’s not “Dub-you-K-A-R Noos,” it’s “Double-You-K-A-R knews.”

One other note about “The Radio Reader.” Dick’s habit (one that I imagine hasn’t changed) was to read each book “cold,” without so much as skimming through it. He said that he liked discovering the work a page at a time, just the way a reader (or listener) at home would. He had a safety valve: he recorded each book weeks in advance. That way if he found, halfway through, say, that the book was worthless he could abandon it and move on to the next without torturing his audience. He’s read more than 500 books on-air in his more than 40 years behind the WKAR mic.

Oh, and he was also—for many, many years—the public address voice of the Michigan State Spartans football team. He has a clear, bell-like voice. Good guy. Good teacher. Obviously, I learned my first lessons from him well enough that they’ve stood the test of time.

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