Born and raised in North West NJ when it really was rural, I am a Graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The day after Graduation I started work in NYC selling commercial Air Conditioning equipment (yes you did need an Engineering Degree to sell the really big stuff) and have been in various sales and marketing management roles in that industry ever since. No doubt it taught me how to speak to large groups and have no fear of a microphone.
In 1978 a job transfer took me to the suburbs of Philadelphia where I remain to this day. When I am not recording, my two sons and I can be found trying (after 12 years!) to get my 1972 Cougar convertible back on the road!
How did you get into audiobook narration?
In 2009 I lost my job. At first it didn’t bother me. I can’t remember any period in my life where I didn’t have a job. I always had the next one before I quit the current one. I never realized how hard it was to get one when suddenly you needed it. But I could certainly narrate, if not write a book about age discrimination in hiring from that experience.
A good friend put a booklet from one of the local community colleges in my hand and told me she would pay for me to go to a one hour Intro to Voice Over class since I might never find another Corporate job. I played around with all kinds of VO for around 10 months, then got my big Corporate job and turned off the mic.
However, I never forgot how much I enjoyed it, or how much I had learned, and in 2015 I turned the mic back on, this time focused entirely on AudioBooks. I first tile went on sale in early 2015, and I recently completed my 53rd.
What do you do to prepare yourself for making your audiobook recordings?
I probably should spend more time on what is called Prep, but I have been lucky to establish a continuing relationship with 3 or 4 authors, so I know the characters pretty well before ever picking up the latest novel in a series. As a reader or listener, my personal favorites have always been characters like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Spencer, etc. While the character grows and become more complex with each ensuing novel, the only surprise is usually the new antagonist each edition introduces. In the Blair Horard’s Harry Starke series, Jack L. Knapp’s The New Frontier Incorporated series as well as Jack’s Darwin’s World, and Dean Kuzler’s The Jack Elliot Thrillers, I have been very fortune to become the voice of the series. They have all become old friends and I anxiously look forward to each new edition just as any true fan would.
What kinds of things are covered in workshops like you took?
While Johnny Heller and Carol Munda have been the most influential AudioBook coaches I have ever trained with, I still consider my many visits with Chuck McKibben to be the most important coaching I have ever had. I enjoyed my frequent visits with Chuck where he taught me not only about performing, but also all the technical stuff involved in production. Thanks to Chuck I have never had the need to farm out any audio production and I still use the digital audio workstation software he taught me how to use almost 10 years ago now. All that knowledge coupled with his stories about his days as Mel Blanc’s Chief Studio Engineer made for great memories.
You particularly highlight your Harry Starke novels by Blair Howard on your website. Tell us about those.
Harry Starke for me is the perfect example of the old line about “even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.” Back in 2015 Blair Howard was looking for a narrator for Harry Starke #1. I auditioned simply because it looked like a book I would enjoy reading. My kind of fiction. At that point I had only produced a small handful of books, I believe only one novel. For some reason Blair decided a guy that grew up in NJ and never lived south of VA could do a born and raised Chattanooga PI series. Once in a while there will be a comment about my non-Southern native voice, but by and large through 12 novels now, the fans have loved the books and the narration. I found that nut! Can’t wait to receive the manuscript for #13 in a few weeks and see what my old friends are up to in this newest edition.
You read a book called Succulent Gardening. How do you make a book about gardens with succulents in them become interesting?
LOL, you don’t! I have produced a number of books that were good practice perhaps, but had little hope of ever being compelling listening.
You have performed a number of history books, especially military history. Do you have an affinity towards selecting history books, or do producers just like to pick you?
I do like history, especially early to mid 20th century, so I do look for those titles. Perhaps the two most significant books I have ever produced fit that description, and I wish they sold better. They say important things that especially today more Americans should know about. Both are non-partisan for the most part and that alone is a nice break from the daily news we are inundated with.
The first is Fighting the Cold War, the memoirs of General John Galvin, USA (Ret.). Here is a name that few Americans outside the military probably recognize. In part, that is the general’s soft-spoken style and his life-long practice of never grabbing the spotlight (even when he clearly could have). From his West Point graduation in 1953 through his career rising to the position as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, the general recounts his interactions with 6 different US presidents, Margret Thacher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Manuel Noriega and just about every other world leader in the second half of the 20th century. This is an American we can all be proud of. I can’t imagine that anyone who has read or listened to this book could avoid wishing they could shake the general’s hand and just thank him.
My second favorite history has to be Congress, Presidents, and American Politics. Lee H. Hamilton was first elected to Congress in the Johnson landslide of 1964. This book contains his writings for the next 50 years with lots of facts about all the presidents from Johnson through Obama. None were perfect, nor were perfectly awful. All were different. Slowly over the years you can see the always very partisan process of legislating drift closer and closer to the complete almost uncivilized grid lock that exists today. This book should be required reading for anyone running for any office.
You told me that you loved Old-Time radio shows. I grew up listening to reruns of them every night on our local news station and love them too. Which ones are your favorites, and how did they inspire your narration career?
Who doesn’t know The Christmas Story? Well, many people don’t realize that Ralphie was actually Jean Shepherd, the narrator and writer of the story which is entirely based on his childhood. When I was a kid Jean had a radio program on WOR in NYC at 10 PM every weeknight where he told countless stories about his growing up in Indiana. I heard the Christmas Story on radio long before it ever became a movie. His book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash was full of this and many similar tales. He was probably the best story teller I have ever heard. You can find a few of his old shows on the Internet, and I recently downloaded and listened to several. Still great.
While I now have complete collections of Burns & Allen, Nero Wolfe, The Shadow and several others, my all time favorite radio program is certainly The Jack Benny Show. If you watch some of his early TV shows today, they didn’t age very well in my opinion. The sets are cheesy, the formulas dull. I have a hard time getting through the half hour. On radio, however, the budget for set design, costumes, and remote locations seems infinite. Each one is as detailed and fresh as if it had been made yesterday, since the listener sees it clearly in his very modern and up to date mind. No one had better timing than Jack Benny so they are truly as funny today as over 70 years ago when many were made. Jack rarely told jokes; he told stories.
What narrators do you like to draw inspiration from?
I am a huge fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spencer Series. I have read or listened to probably every one at this point. While there were several narrators used over the years, all good, for my money Joe Montegna and Burt Reynolds are unmatched in their performances. Listening to either is like going for a Ph.D. in narrating for me.