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Storytelling Fuels Veteran Voice Over Artist Steve Stone

“An examination of voice over artist Steve Stone’s staying power in a highly competitive business.”

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Voice over artist Steve Stone has seen a lot over nearly three decades in broadcasting. But he’s never experienced the kind of job market that a global pandemic brings.

“It’s very disheartening to see what’s happened,” he tells me. “This kind of uncertainty is kind of like walking on jello, you know?”

His first professional hit came from the sports industry as COVID-19 infections began spreading rapidly in March and much of the country went into various states of lockdown.

“All my pro-baseball work went away. There was a solid two, three months there when no one knew what was going on. It was so difficult to know how to maneuver [professionally] because I had absolutely no control.”

Throughout the intervening eight months, Stone has continued working, like so many of us, from his home in Pittsburgh. He counts himself lucky to have been represented by Atlas Talent Agency for 20 years, whose agents, along with many other long-term clients, have helped him weather the economic storm of 2020.

“Dealing with change has been the most important skill of my career.”

You may not know it, but if you listen to commercial radio and are a sports fan, Steve Stone has been in your ears, many times over.

If your media diet includes CNN, CBS Radio, Fox Sports, Hearst television, or any of Sinclair’s or iHeartMedia’s radio and television affiliate stations and digital platforms, his voice is as familiar to you as a your favorite show host.

Stone’s career began in earnest in 1991 at an FM station in Santa Rosa, California, where he got his first on-air break as an overnight and weekend fill-in disc jockey. He would go onto work behind the mic as a producer and graphic artist there and at other radio stations in Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York City, and elsewhere.

Stone’s on-air work would eventually morph from his role as an on-air personality to an in demand audio branding talent, i.e. voice over artist. In between, he also developed his lifelong love of comic book illustration into a side gig.

“I was really fortunate to have really good mentors early in my career.” Stone says. “Plus, the more skills you have in anything you focus on, the better.”

Among his skill set, Stone puts flexibility at the top of the list.

And that makes sense given that his career has straddled two very different worlds, having started in terrestrial broadcasting and continuing right up to the current digital revolution.

Stone says he knew big changes were coming as far back as the late 1990s, when media companies began consolidating, scooping up or killing off innumerable local radio and television affiliates, thanks in large part to the 1996 telecommunications act. It led to what Stone describes as a kind of homogenized and formulaic broadcasting business model, a disruption that was compounded by dramatic technological changes.

“In my day, people would not adapt to technology. That happens with every big change. It’s how you deal with change that impacts your longevity.”

Part of Stone’s staying power in such a highly competitive business has to do with open embrace of vast technological change. The professional gains of his approach are obvious. But, he adds, there are some real losses. Particularly for his younger counterparts.

“When I think about my generation, I learned so much simply by being around really talented broadcasters. Two generations later, there has been a void of training and learning and a level of matriculation that has been lost,” Stone says.

“A lot of people younger than me are incredibly talented, but they’re learning from YouTube. It’s a great platform, but it’s just not the same as standing right next to a really talented pro.”

Stone acknowledges that digital innovation has created unthinkable opportunities (indeed, he says, the entire world) to would-be voice artists. But, he adds, it’s also produced an ever more crowded and highly competitive profession as the explosive growth of online streaming and podcasting over the past 10 years has prompted mass layoffs in radio.

“Years ago, you would compete for voice over jobs with people in your own market. Now, it’s anyone at anytime in any place around the world. Technology has become so accessible that it doesn’t take much to set yourself up to be able to do quality work independently from home.”

For Stone, whose work ranges from newscasting, radio ads to sports branding, the delivery method doesn’t really matter. The work of a voice over artist always boils down to one thing: storytelling.

“We are either telling our own story or someone else’s story. Can be a scary or festive attitude or a kind of bravado – that’s the acting part,” he says. “Everything is a story.”

And to remind himself, he keeps that core idea nearby.

“I have tattoos. And one of them on my arm says ‘tell the story.’”

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BNM Writers

Americans Become Their Own Media

If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.

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Photo by Times Up Linz CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the mainstream, corporate media has transformed from watchdogs and information disseminators to cheerleaders, suppressors and protectors, citizens now have to take on the aforementioned traditional roles themselves.

If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.

Grant Stinchfield devoted part of his Friday Newsmax program to laying out why he believes the rapid, deleterious changes that have overcome our nation in just the last week will only serve to weaken the country. He was joined by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, who set the stage for what the country must be aware of as we enter a period of adjustment in America. Neither man targeted the mainstream media by name, but their discussion contained an unmistakable call for citizens to be alert and vigilant. They need to do the job that, in years past, was the duty of the media.

“With only three days in the White House, Joe Biden claims he wants to ‘Build Back Better,’ yet every move he has made leads you to believe he wants to tear it down worse,” Stinchfield began, noting the Biden quickly removed both the Winston Churchill bust and military battle flags from the Oval Office. “We went from America First to America Last in a matter of three days, and the D.C. swamp is reemerging.”

Presidents have traditionally entered office experiencing a “honeymoon period,” characterized by unsustainably high approval ratings. Not so this year, as Rasmussen Reports pegs Biden’s approval at just 48%, lower than the starting point for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Many Americans, possibly most, understand that sans a flood of mail-in ballots with a lack of signature verification, the likelihood is high that Donald Trump would still be president. Many citizens also fear what will be the immediate dismantling of the Trump policies that led to unprecedented peace and prosperity across the nation.

“There will be a lot of things that will not be able to be torn apart, and we need to concentrate on those,” Carson noted. “I hope people are paying very close attention, because you see two very distinct philosophies on how things should be run.”

The mainstream media, once a protector of the individual, has now become a protector of the ruling class. While not calling out the liberal media specifically, Carson has for years called out the true duty of government, as laid out in the Constitution.

“When this country was created, it was created as a place where there would be individual freedoms, where you could live your life the way you wanted, believe what you wanted. You had religious freedom as long as your rights didn’t impinge on the next person’s rights. But then there’s always been a group that has felt that the government should be in charge, that true utopia is a place where you give the government full power from cradle to grave, and they take care of you.” In just the past few days, American watchdogs and a sliver of the national news media has called out this overarching theme enveloping the new administration’s executive orders and policy proposals.

“I implore the American people – pay attention to what’s going on,” Carson said. “Remember what’s happened over the last four years, how the economy just skyrocketed because of the policies – removing all of those regulations, letting people spend their own money and determine their own way. Those are the things that had a very, very rapid ameliorating effect on America.”

Carson is right to put the onus on citizens to track the changing effects over the next few years, knowing much of the American media will attempt to deflect, deceive and obscure the truth from viewers.  

Stinchfield played a clip of President Biden, after months of blaming his predecessor for everything related to COVID-19, saying that “there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” A far different tune than he and his party of resistance sang for the past year, and a clear example of what Stinchfield and Carson want viewers to be on the alert for.

“The way that the previous administration was able to get business, and industry and science and universities to all work together, to come up with a vaccine in record-breaking time. No one thought it could be done, and yet it was done because of the push there to try and save lives.” 

Carson did not mention the press as he summed up, however his all-encompassing point cannot be understated.

“China is not going to destroy us. Russia is not going to destroy us. Iran is not going to destroy us. North Korea is not going to destroy us. What will destroy us is us, if we continue to listen to the purveyors of hatred.”  

Americans can no longer trust the mainstream press to present truthful reality. They must now take that burden upon themselves.

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BNM Writers

CNN Comfortable in the Cable News Ratings Lead

According to Nielsen Media Research’s fast national data (not including out-of-home viewing), CNN averaged 3.8 million total viewers and 1.08 million adults 25-54 on Jan. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. ET.

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CNN continues to thrive since the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election.

The week ending Jan. 17, 2021 was highlighted by Congress’ second impeachment vote on Donald Trump on Wednesday Jan. 13, as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection by his supporters at the Capitol. CNN was not only the top cable news outlet in coverage, but it also topped ABC and CBS in key figures (NBC did not break in to regularly scheduled programming that day). According to Nielsen Media Research’s fast national data (not including out-of-home viewing), CNN averaged 3.8 million total viewers and 1.08 million adults 25-54 on Jan. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. ET.

MSNBC was runner-up in total viewers with 2.58 million; in third place with 464,000 adults 25-54. One positive for them on the day, as well as the week: the Jan. 13th edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show” was the most-watched cable news telecast.

An average of 2.4 million (530,000 aged 25-54) tuned in to ABC (12:24-5:00 p.m. ET).

CBS aired just 23 minutes of impeachment coverage (4:22-4:46 p.m. ET), yet drew more than Fox News Channel’s entire afternoon — CBS’s 1.9 million viewers/388,000 25-54 vs. FNC’s 1.39 million viewers/278,000 25-54.

Here are the cable news prime time averages for Jan. 11-17, 2021:

Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • CNN: 2.177 million viewers; 591,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.838 million viewers; 325,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox News Channel: 1.330 million viewers; 235,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (Jan. 11-16 @ 8-11 p.m.; Jan. 17 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • CNN: 3.121 million viewers; 880,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 2.834 million viewers; 508,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox News Channel: 2.489 million viewers; 424,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top Fox News program and its associated rank)  in total viewers:

1. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.765 million viewers

2. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.714 million viewers

3. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.705 million viewers

4. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.682 million viewers

5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 1/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.319 million viewers

6. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.274 million viewers

7. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.249 million viewers

8. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 1/11/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.218 million viewers

9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.174 million viewers

10. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Thu. 1/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.015 million viewers

27. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.611 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and Fox News programs and its associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.414 million adults 25-54

2. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.368 million adults 25-54

3. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.366 million adults 25-54

4. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.295 million adults 25-54

5. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.212 million adults 25-54

6. CNN Tonight (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.195 million adults 25-54

7. Erin Burnett Outfront (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.185 million adults 25-54

8. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.175 million adults 25-54

9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.163 million adults 25-54

10. CNN Special Coverage: 2nd Trump Impeachment Vote (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 2:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.138 million adults 25-54

24. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.945 million adults 25-54

59. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.693 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

Note to Journalists: You’re Not Bigger Than the Moment

Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them. Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift.

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Photo by Alisdare Hickson CC BY-SA 2.0.

This past week, I did what many people around the country did.  I watched the inaugurations of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

Indeed, we were watching an historic moment.   For the first time, America would have a woman serve as its Vice-President.  She would also be the first African American and Asian-American to serve as VP.

I wanted to witness that moment.  Moreover, I wanted to see how the various networks HANDLED that moment.

I wasn’t surprised at what I saw and heard.

As Harris was sworn in, anchor after anchor had to remind me that I had just “witnessed history”.  Some even added jazzy commentary about the “American Experience”.

Oy vey. 

A constant problem in the news media strikes again.

Far too often, journalists want to make themselves part of the moment.  They look for the catchy line or signature phrase that will forever be remembered, archived and hash-tagged to death.  Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them.  Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift. 

Like many people in the business, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

I harken back to one of my early jobs, working as a reporter for a small market news station.  One evening, there was a major fire at a warehouse close to where I was living at the time.   I had sprung into action, filled with the exhilaration of covering a breaking story.

As soon as I got to the scene, I spoke with a few witnesses and first responders, took notes, and then called into the newsroom.  They immediately put me on the air with the anchor in the studio, who asked me to divulge what I had learned.

“Oh my God,” I cried.  “It’s like a WAR ZONE out here!”  I then went on to describe the scene of the burning building like I was reporting from Manhattan during 9-11.  I wanted to make sure that I could grab and hold the attention of listeners.

The very next day, I was called into the News Director’s office.  I thought I would be getting a hearty pat on the back.  Instead, I got a swift kick in the ass.

“What the HELL was that last night?” he asked.

“Well, I was trying to report on….” He cut me off.

“You were trying to make yourself part of the story,” he said.  “You need to learn that when it comes to reporting, less of YOU is ALWAYS more.”

He was right.  It was a mistake that I never made again.

NO ONE DID IT BETTER THAN UNCLE WALTER

Walter Cronkite was the Godfather of electronic journalism.  He always knew that it was the moment that would often speak for itself.  He once famously said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”

When I worked in news/talk, I kept an autographed photo of Cronkite in my office, behind my desk.  I wanted to make sure that he was always looking over my shoulder.  I also wanted my anchors and reporters to see him glaring back at them whenever they would sit in front of me.  He was a permanent reminder of what our job was: we report the news without trying to BE the news.

Here are a few famous examples of how Cronkite mastered that philosophy.

“THE FLASH APPARENTLY OFFICIAL…”

All the major networks covered that fateful day on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  However, it was Cronkite who is most remembered.  It wasn’t because of some catchphrase or commentary he came up with to encapsulate the moment. 

Cronkite delivered the facts as he knew them.  The painful pauses you could see him take to contain himself made him come across as genuine.  In that moment, nothing else was needed.  The nation was in pain and he was there with the nation. 

Can you imagine how MODERN journalists and news anchors would have handled this?

“OH BOY!”

Not every moment Cronkite covered was marred with tragedy.  There was that historic occassion on July 20th, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Cronkite was sitting at the CBS Anchor desk preparing to deliver the news as it happened.

“I had just as much time to prepare for that landing as the space program did,” he said.  “I watched it from the beginning.  And yet, when that vehicle landed on the moon, I was speechless.”

The look on Cronkite’s face when ‘the Eagle had landed’ was one of the great moments in the history of journalism.  There was no need to wax poetic about the moment itself.  He was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning…just as the rest of the country was.  Once again, he came across as genuine.  There was no shame in being speechless because it was the best thing he could have done.

I cringe to think of how modern news networks would have handled that.

“AND WE’LL SEE YOU TOMORROW NIGHT!”

I’ll end with a brief segue into sports (as I’ve spent a few years in that format as well).

One of the greatest home run calls of all time came from Jack Buck.  It was also one of the simplest home run calls of all time and epitomized the idea of “less is more”.

It was October 26th, 1991.  Game 6 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves.  The Twins needed to win to force a tiebreaking Game 7 or else their season would be over.  In the bottom of the 11th inning, star outfielder Kirby Puckett came to the plate.

Buck was the Cronkite of sports.  He didn’t need to do anything but sign off with a reminder that there would be one more game to be played the following evening.  The sounds and images of that scene didn’t need further explanation or commentary on his part. 

Ironically enough, by not trying to become part of the moment, he becamepart of the moment.

Viewers knew they were watching history in the making.  They didn’t need to be reminded of it. As Uncle Walter would say, “And that’s the way it is.”

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