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Master Storyteller Harlan Hogan Entertains
And Informs In New Voice Over Book.
Excerpt: 'My First Shift On The Air'
October 16, 2014
Part 1 of 3

(VOXtra) - A skilled voice actor can captivate us in stories written by others - as they do quite well when narrating audiobooks.

It's another skill altogether to be a great storyteller of one's own tales - and that's the rarefied realm of legendary voice actor-author-entrepreneur Harlan Hogan.

Harlan has just released the second edition of his popular book, VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor, which is a thoroughly updated string of humorous and lesson-filled stories about Harlan's career - plus no fewer than 23 mini-chapters of voice over success advice on voice acting, home audio studios, business and marketing.

Harlan's storytelling voice has a way of jumping off the page, drawing us in for more and more.

And he's granted permission to VoiceOverXtra to excerpt some bits for you, starting today with a recollection of his first on-air radio shift. If you have been - or are - in broadcasting, you'll be catching your breath as this story triggers your own early memories.
Note: Harlan has agreed to send an autographed copy of VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor (second edition) to VoiceOverXtra readers who purchase the new book by clicking here (with free shipping in the 48-continguous U.S. states).
My First Shift On The Air
By Harlan Hogan

Excerpted with permission from Chapter 2 of VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor, Second Edition, (c) Harlan Hogan

Naturally, my first shift on the air was flawless.

As the record ended and I switched on the microphone, I no longer felt the temptation to repeat "Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Instead, I managed to croak out: "Nancy and Frank Sinatra on WIOK.”

I started a prerecorded commercial and thought to myself, Hey that was easy! 

Nanoseconds later the program director, station manager, and sales manager of WIOK were in the control room, glowering.

"What did you say?” demanded John McDermott, the nearly seven-foot-high station manager.

I’d only said six words. What could possibly be wrong?

"Uh . . .” I managed.

"He said ‘Doubya,’” replied Henry Zang, the station sales manager, tugging at his clip-on tie, and then cleaning his black-rimmed glasses with the tail of his rumpled J. C. Penney’s white shirt.

Goateed program director Thom Brown slowly and silently nodded assent.

"Uh . . .” I repeated.

"Hogie,” said McDermott, "it’s double U, double U, not ‘doubya, ’double u eye oh kay . . . got it?”

"Right!” I said.

"Oh, Jim won’t make it back from his remote, so you gotta do the news at fifty-five.”

"Got it!” I said.


The United Press International teletype printer was in the hallway just outside the control room, spewing out an endless stream of yellow paper with purple inked stories from around the world.

I glanced through the window at the Barbra Streisand record, making sure it was still playing, and checked the control room clock, which read 4:52. I had three minutes to figure out what to read from the UPI machine.

Welcome to the radio world of "rip and read.”

I started to panic until I saw the headline: "Five Minute News Summary.” Perfect! I thought as I ripped it off the teletype. I barely made it back to the booth to "back announce” Ms. Streisand by once again mentioning the name of the song, then saying that the news was just a minute away over the last bars of music.


I flicked on the Ampex 601 to play a thirty-second commercial for Howard Johnson’s and with trembling hands quickly managed to put a huge record onto the unoccupied turntable.

I turned the volume control, or "pot,” down to the "cue” position as my predecessor Jay had taught me, so that the sound wouldn’t go on the air, and "cued up” the next commercial from the thirty or so pre-recorded spots on the record.

Cueing up meant rotating the disc back and forth to find the exact beginning of the commercial. Who would have expected that many years later DJs would make a career out of that same basic movement - "scratching” records.

I feverishly grabbed another record containing the music that introduced our newscasts, slapped it down in place of the Streisand record, and just managed to cue it up before the commercial on the other turntable ended.


Breathless, I flipped on the microphone to start my first live newscast.

Looking back I realize I was perfect - perfectly awful. "Ripping and Reading” news stories without pre-reading or rehearsing them is a learned art, and one I had never practiced.

On top of that, UPI printouts utilized tons of abbreviations, and translating those on the fly was another skill I hadn’t mastered.

I reported in my most serious tone that, "General Mac Murty was struck at an R R crossing andwas D Oh A at the hospital . . . . He had served the US in W W EyeEye.”  

Then I confidently informed my listeners that an East German pilot had defected by flying his plane over to West Germany. Unfortunately, I reported that he’d "defecated” over West Germany.


The phone lines at WIOK lit up like a Christmas tree.

I spent the next three days practicing "double U”, "double U”, "double u eye oh kay” over and over and over, and read the United Press International Manual of Terms and Abbreviations cover to cover.

Somewhere deep inside I knew this wasn’t going to be quite as easy as I thought.

See Part 2: VO Advice - 'Flying Solo, Performing Alone'
Harlan Hogan has been a voice actor for 35 years, and odds are you already know what he sounds like. His commercial voice overs include classic and contemporary ad slogans from "Raid. Kills bugs fast, kills bugs dead" and Life Cereal's "It's the cereal even Mikey likes" to "This PBS program is made possible by viewers like you." Twenty-six million online gamers hear him as the voice of Alistar in League of Legends, while filmgoers see and hear him in the feature-length film Dimension. He's equally at home narrating documentaries, voicing commercials for political candidates and much more. Harlan also created Voice Over Essentials, an online voice over equipment boutique.

Voice Over Essentials online store
VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor

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Comments (1)
Bob Noble
10/16/2014 at 10:26 AM
Hi Harlan:

Enjoyed the excerpt from your new book I received today in an email from John Florian. Great Memories!

I entered radio while still in high school in 1947 as a weekend
DJ (78rpms only), newscaster and farm editor. This was in
Savannah, Georgia.

The old UPI news machine with the yellow paper and purple
ink ribbons turned out to be my first disaster shortly after
getting into the "biz." In reading a "rip and read" news story
(without having read it over first," I led off my 5-minute
award-winning newscast with the story of a powerful
hurricane approaching the East Coast.

"Just in from the weather bureau, flood waters along the east coast are expected to be much higher than originally anticipated from the hurricane due to a major "shit" in the wind."

Never could understand what happened to the letter "F" . . . (neither could my station manager).

Have a Great Day . . .
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