I met Mark Andrews in 1995, give or take. That was at WRNS Radio in Kinston, North Carolina, where I held titles ranging from boom box operator to music director, and Mark, as production manager, wrote, recorded and produced commercials good enough to be aired on any station in the world. I’m very serious. Have you ever met one of those totally annoying people who’s great at everything they do? That’s Mark. And to make matters worse, he’s a Chicago Bears fan. I bleed purple and gold. Despite that, we’ve managed to remain friends for almost two decades. Maybe that’s because we don’t see each other that often anymore.
These days, Mark is the co-host of The Morning Air Show, 6:00am to 10:00am on WXBQ 96.9 in Bristol, Virginia. It’s streamable if you’re interested www.wxbq.com. Mark also has a home studio where he makes the most of his twenty-two years of voice over work. I have, from time to time, taken advantage of his talent and versatility. Here he is narrating the panic attack experienced by a mutual friend when he went for a ride in an 800 horsepower supermodified at the Oswego Speedway. And here he is doing a little Vikings play-by-play so I could play a practical joke on my Viking hating father-in-law. Mark does plenty of legitimate work as well. This is his latest demo, and because he’s added audio book narration to his repertoire, I asked him to record a brief excerpt from A Shot at Redemption. I’ve long been curious about audio book production. I recently talked to Mark about that, along with a few other things.
Q: When you are hired to record an audio book, what type of prep work do you have to do?
A : I like to have an extended conversation with the author to get an idea of what his or her ideas are of the book–what they get excited about. I want to know if they want a different voice for each character or if they want me to read them in my voice. The recording process is fairly simple. I read a chapter to myself to get an idea of what’s going on, the mood, the tempo. I’ll use a yellow highlighter to highlight certain words or sentences that need to be emphasized. In the case of foreign words that I’m not familiar with, I will use an online dictionary to get the audio pronunciation to make sure I say them correctly. Then I record the chapter, re-reading anything I mess up, re-read a line a different way with a different tone and I leave all of those mistakes and re-reads in. Once I’ve finished the recording process, I begin the part I hate the most, and the most grueling part, the editing process. As I’m editing I absolutely will find lines that I don’t like. I will highlight those in the chapter with an orange highlighter and go back into the studio to re-record those lines. Once the editing process is complete, I then sit down, turn everything off including my phone ringer and listen to the chapter uninterrupted to make sure it flows and is smooth.
Q: When you’re using multiple voices, what process do you use to ensure everything is correct and consistent?
A: I’ve made the multiple voice process pretty easy. When I record a character for the first time, I will pull the first few lines of audio and save it as a separate audio file from the rest of the book. For example, I am currently recording a 6 book series that has several recurring roles. There is one character, Natalie, who makes her first appearance in book 1 but doesn’t appear again until book 4. So I have a “Natalie” file saved so that I can go back and listen to her voice to make sure her voice is consistent through the entire book or books in this case.
Q: I know you don’t do much reading for pleasure. Do you think that makes recording audio books any more challenging?
A: Not at all. I read so much every day for the show. I’d say hundreds of stories. That includes conveying what I read into a bit and ultimately, a joke or commentary on the air for the listeners without sounding like I’m reading from a story. To me, it’s sort of the same approach for recording audio books.
Q: When did you first discover that you have a talent for voices?
A: I started mimicking Elvis Presley when I was 6 or 7 years old. Not long after that I started doing the voices of my favorite cartoons. Scooby Doo was my first. It really wasn’t until the mid 80’s, after seeing a very talented and now legendary voice guy named Maurice LaMarche, that I began truly working on the craft. I began expanding my cartoon voices to celebrity impressions and found out I could do a fairly large variety of voices. I currently have around 60 voices that I do and have made money doing.
Q: How do you determine the proper voice or each character?
A: As part of the interview process with an author who wants a voice for each character, I ask them to tell me what that character sounds like in their head. It’s even better if they can tell me WHO that character sounds like. Generally another celebrity or cartoon character so that I can then go to YouTube to get an idea of the voice they envision for that character.
Q: What types of voices do you find especially challenging?
A: This one’s easy. Any female voice is by far the most difficult for me. Not that my voice is very masculine, it’s just difficult to take on the character of a female. When I’m recording a book with character, I’m an actor being that character. Obviously it’s easier for me to relate to a male character. Understanding or “being” a female is not that easy, especially when there are emotions involved in a dialog with another character.
Q: What were some of the jobs you held before you started your career in broadcasting?
A: My first job was a grill cook at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Then I managed a seafood restaurant, I was a glass-blower, and finally painted and designed billboard signs before I broke into broadcasting in 1989.
Q: I know some broadcasting perks can be pretty good. What’s the best thing you ever got to do in connection with a radio job?
A: There are definitely some really great perks with radio. Meeting many of the artists are among the highlights…especially Garth Brooks. Going to the Country Radio Seminars in Nashville is also a highlight. I also broadcast the morning show live from Key West, but without a doubt the coolest thing I’ve ever done; my morning show spent 4 days at Sandals Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica broadcasting the show.
Q: What was the worst or most demeaning thing you ever had to do?
A: The worst thing I’ve ever been through in my radio career happened in 1990. I worked 7-midnight and a girl who was a huge fan of the station, Paige, used to call every night at the same time and request the same song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the Beatles White Album. I always hated that song and I wanted to play more upbeat songs. Still, I played it for her most times. One night, I was having a terrible night on the air. Stumbling over my words, miserable board work, and the phones were real busy. Like clockwork, she called and requested that song and I lost it. I yelled at her, “why do you call me every night and request the same song? Why don’t you buy the record? Better yet, buy the album so you can listen to it as many times as you want!! Why do you always call ME for that song?” Her answer broke my heart. She said, “Don’t you know? I call you because you’re my only friend”, and she hung up. I never heard from her again. About 3 weeks later her parents called the station to let me know that she had committed suicide. They called me because they didn’t want me to wonder why she quit calling. It was difficult to get over but I made it a learning experience. I haven’t been rude like that to a listener or fan since then.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: I would love to be a sports broadcaster. More specifically play-by-play for the Chicago Bears or the University of Illinois. Next on my list would be to do a character voice for a Disney or Pixar blockbuster movie(s) or a even TV series.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I bowl, play softball and love watching movies and sports. I’m being completely honest when I say this, my job is also my hobby. I enjoy being on the air and making people laugh and making an impact on people every day. It’s a great responsibility but also so much fun. It truly is a hobby for me.
Q: Why is it that, despite years of trying, you can never beat me at fantasy football?
A: In addition to our league, I play in 3 or 4 fantasy football leagues every year. In every league for the past 4 seasons, I’ve made the playoffs and have won at least one championship each year. However, in our league I’m always at the bottom of the barrel. I happen to find that a bit odd. Therefore I believe it is a conspiracy. A conspiracy that I believe 90% of the members of our fantasy league is in on. I believe the motivation for this conspiracy is in retaliation for the hundreds of victories that I scored over you in Tecmo Bowl. Something that clearly scarred you and made you a bitter, bitter man.