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Steve Kamer: Getting to Know a Familiar Voice

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After losing his gig as overnight personality at now-defunct radio station Mix 105 in New York, Steve Kamer knew his best route to a lucrative life in broadcasting was going full throttle into a voice-over career.

“The choice was not mine, but the decision was easy to make,” Kamer told BNM.

He was able to parlay 17 years as a “terrible jock” into his on-air reinventing for himself.

By the time Kamer was “transitioning” as air personality, he was already the announcer for NBC’s Today show.

Over the next three decades, Kamer has established himself as a leading sound for many media companies.

Familiar Voice

Despite decades of high-profile voice-over work, with an upbeat and energetic style, there is no resting on any laurels for Kamer, 58, who is still working with coaches to hone and refine his style.

“It’s how you stay at the top of your game and not become a flash in the pan,” Kamer said. “Even though I’m working at what some would consider ‘the peak,’ there’s the next peak.”

He just concluded work for the Olympics on NBC. For two weeks you heard him primarily announcing sponsor billboards. His voice-over work in the sports division goes back to the early 1990s. But under the new management his vocal responsibilities are only needed every two years.

Kamer is also the voice of CBS Radio’s Top of the Hour network newscasts. However, since Entercom took over (and since changed to Audacy), he isn’t allowed to air on the affiliates.

He is the local and network branding voice for Saga Communications’ cluster of news/talk stations.

“In their case, Scott Chase, who’s the group PD, likes the idea of having the network voice doing the local promos,” Kamer said.

Along with the news entities, Kamer “found his voice” in daytime talk shows. His promo list could be part of a Paley Center exhibit. He estimates being heard on 20 programs over the years—Montel Williams, Geraldo, Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael, Jerry Springer, Ananda Lewis among them and currently Tamron Hall.

Others are familiar with Kamer for joining the final season of Judge Judy after original announcer Jerry Bishop died.

Style aside, Kamer says he separates himself with customer service.

“If somebody commits to you as their announcer, you’re expected to be available when they need you,” Kamer said.

That means if he’s on vacation, Kamer is still expected to produce as necessary for his clients.

“I have a portable travel studio that I set up in the hotel room,” Kamer said.

Early in his voice-over career, he decided to create a home studio and be more accessible to his clients, while also saving himself from the commuting headaches.

“The bad news is everybody who has a home studio can compete for the same work,” he said.

The technical set-up doesn’t feature many bells and whistles. He uses all Apple products, including a Mac mini. But there is no separate announcer booth for Kamer.

“The whole room is padded and the sound is great,” he said.

In 2018, Kamer left the studio to surprise Steve Harvey, who never met his announcer, as he was interviewed from the audience about being single and taking care of his 92-year-old mother.

Beginnings

For Kamer, who hails from South Jersey, it started in radio at just 14 years old. His upbringing helped align the stars for his microphone mentality. At an early age, Kamer would sample stations from New York City and Philadelphia during the day and other markets at night.

“I always was intrigued by listening to voices on radio, and ultimately on television.” Kamer said.

The broadcasting bug bit as a youngster as his parents took him to several game show tapings in Manhattan and he was mesmerized by the announcers, especially watching the legendary Don Pardo do the audience warm-up for the original Jeopardy! on NBC.

The love for the industry was there and so was the voice.

“Even at a young age, I had a voice that stood out,” he said. “It didn’t have a New Jersey accent, which I think was probably a plus.”

During the Olympics, Kamer had to block out time each morning to record the latest scripts for producers in Stamford, CT. There was overall a lead time of two days from producing the audio to airing.   

“They want to call or page, and have you immediately drop what you’re doing, get on the microphone and record with them,” Kamer said. “I always put my best voice forward.”

Breaking news could also force Kamer to quickly rerecord a new promo for shows like Tamron Hall even just hours before airtime.

Many weekdays Kamer can get in his recording booth at 8 a.m. and not finish until midnight.

To New York area sports fans, Kamer is the voice of the YES Network with his famous “Only on YES!” delivery. He’s been with the Yankees’ broadcast home since its inception in 2002.

“TV pays the bills, but radio is very exciting,” Kamer said. “There’s just no way around it. It’s immediate. I like to record something, hear it on the air and know that I’m a part of the overall station.”

He’s recently got a three-year renewal to remain as the voice of WGN Radio in Chicago.

“People commit for long periods of time because they don’t want you to go somewhere else in the market,” he said.

So, the value of voice affords him “some sense of stability in a job that’s considered a freelance job.”

Even more so than traditional broadcasting, the voice-over business is highly competitive.

“There are a lot of great voice-over announcers, but there’s one Steve Kamer,” he said proudly. “That’s the mantel I claim. I play in my own sandbox.”

The next generation of voice-over artists ask him often how they can also become successful. He said a good voice isn’t enough. It can’t be a hobby; you need a coach and demo tape that stands out and shows your strongest assets.

“You can’t come across as desperate,” he said.

While every gig is important and treated with the same care by Kamer, he delineates the work, for example: “When I’m doing a radio station in Atlantic City, Des Moines, or Nashville, I put on a voice that’s reflective of wearing a pair of jeans or khakis,” Kamer said. “When I’m doing the Olympics, I put on my tuxedo voice.”

Typically, he works independently without direction, a process he considers “more efficient.”

“You might listen after a while and say, ‘They all sound the same.’ And maybe they do. But I try to give each one a little bit of its own uniqueness.”

Kamer has to “own the copy” by fact-checking and, obviously, confirming any confusing pronunciations.

CNN viewers were likely hearing him on promos in the run up to the cable network’s airing of the NYC Homecoming Concert on August 21.

Always Growing

However, his popularity has not translated into commercial work. 

“[They] have not been an area that I’ve had a lot of success in,” Kamer admitted.

Another part of voice-overs that eludes Kamer are movie trailers and network prime-time promos.

“That’s a hard one. That really borders on being a good actor,” Kamer said. “Although the jobs that I do require some acting, those movie trailers and network promos require all acting.”

Those artists are storytellers and “the minute I put on the headphones and read a script, I’m not as good a storyteller as many of the people who are currently booking them,” he confessed.  “I haven’t given up on those things, but those don’t come as easily for me. I would say that a lot of the people who do movie trailers and network promos can’t easily transition to what I do.”

He was able to separate himself from those high-profile movie announcers who missed out on work for months during the pandemic. Kamer, though, has been busy throughout for his radio and TV gigs, including Inside Edition.

“The style changed in many cases. I couldn’t be as hard hitting and abrasive in some reads. I had to pull it back and reflect what’s going on in the world, even in subtle differences,” Kamer said.  

You’ll also find him doing narration work for the Smithsonian Channel, but “you really have to stay committed and interested in the subject matter.”

Despite his many assignments over the years, few people outside of the industry connect the dots to Kamer’s work.

“My voice is a celebrity. I’m not. Only my voice is famous.” Kamer said. “It’s exciting to be out and hear my voice on the TV or radio somewhere. But I like the anonymity of being in a room and not being known as the announcer guy.”

That cache as a voice on marquee projects has helped bring more big-name jobs.

Kamer is not worrying about spreading his voice too thin.

“If someone recognizes the voice, that’s fine,” he said. “But we want the voice to sort of be in the background and the message to be in the foreground.”

Sometimes his voice literally is spread too thin with a cold, or worse, laryngitis. Instead of it being a deal breaker, Kamer has been able to use the huskiness to his advantage.

“I’ve booked the job and then I can’t duplicate it when my voice gets better,” Kamer laughed.  

Upon a visit to Atlantic City you might hear Kamer welcoming guests to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, where “they blast my voice with announcements constantly.”

Plus, using his fondness for transportation and his Jersey roots, he “greets” PATH train riders with next stop alert and the famous “please stand clear of the closing doors.”

He also enjoys being heard on a handful of New Jersey radio stations.

“It’s just really cool to be on local stations that you grew up listening to,” Kamer said.

When it comes to picking projects, Kamer needs to feel passionate about the topic.

“It’s not driven by money,” he admitted.

Despite that, Kamer was intrigued by the chance to earn his annual radio salary in a month of voice-over work.

That said, his rates are based on various factors, including market size and amount of copy per month.

“A local radio station isn’t going to pay the same as NBC Sports. That would be ridiculous,” Kamer said. 

With a great career that shows no sign of slowing, Kamer occasionally wonders “what if”? 

“Had radio continued to embrace me as a jock, I might still be doing it today,” he said.

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

“I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.”

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This is not by any means a new topic of discussion but I do enjoy bringing it up and batting it around because I think it’s worthy of regular consideration and deliberation. Perhaps it deserves even just a fresh batch of whining and complaining by those of us stuck in a newsroom, in front of a camera or microphone or standing out somewhere in the cold.

There’s no debate that what we do has a level of importance that fluctuates from time to time. There are countless professions that we cannot do without for even a portion of a single day. That said, working the holidays is not unfamiliar or even a question for many people out there.

I, myself have spent most of my adult life in professions where working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, the High Holidays, Independence Day among others was just part of the job. It still amazes me how many people would react in astonishment when I declined an invitation or mentioned in conversation that I was working that day.

Like they couldn’t comprehend the possibility. Must be nice.

Now, let’s be clear about this; covering a parade or a holiday festival or religious services on a particular day is not what I’m focusing on here. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July fireworks without reporters and crew coverage.

More people would actually have to go to these things.

No, I’m talking about regularly scheduled newscasts and field reports on these mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Why?

I don’t see it.

More specifically, who is measuring the need for this programming? I cannot identify sitting behind a desk (probably inside an office…what’s that like?) and concluding that there must be 4:00pm-6:30pm newscasts on Thanksgiving Day.

5am news on New Year’s Day is out and out sadism.

“Good morning and Happy New Year…here’s what’s happened in the twenty-three minutes since you went to bed.”

Yes, by all means, let’s open our presents with the soothing tones of morning drive news in the background or lounge in the living room after the two-ton turkey dinner and watch the daily rundown of criminal activity lovingly framed in holiday graphics.

Do people want to drive to Grandma’s house while listening to the latest in Tuesday’s home invasion- assault investigation, this morning’s hit and run fatality or the city council vote on funding a halfway house near the elementary school?

Actually, the inspiration for this semi-rant comes from a conversation I had with a woman I was speaking with about holiday getaway travel. She very innocently asked me why there is news on the holidays. “Who is watching…who is listening on a day like that?” I told her I really couldn’t say. Of course, this was someone who told me she didn’t even pick up a newspaper or peruse social media for a news update on any given holiday.

“On Christmas”, she said, “no news is good news.”

To a significant degree, I’m on board with that. I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.

This is not about those having to work although employee consideration should be part of the equation. There will always be the need to have someone in the newsroom but minimizing that requirement could never be a bad thing.

Many operations do work with reduced staff during the holidays and that’s great. Twenty-years ago the radio station group I worked for dropped most programming during the year-end holidays, simulcasting holiday music across all the stations only cutting in with station IDs, tracked greetings from staff and news updates only if necessary.

I suppose one could argue that people need to know what’s going on all the time so we are providing a necessary service but really, everything we do is on-demand whether we like it or not. Nobody is listening or watching or reading unless they make a conscious effort to do so. They have to turn the TV on and hit the channel, dial the car radio and click on the website. We have no say.

For me, somebody somewhere has to show me that there’s a need and a want for what we do on those special days and at those special times. Convince me.

In the meantime, move the turkey and stuffing closer to my side of the table and keep the cranberry sauce and yams over on your end.

And I’ll be up bright and early talking to the Black Friday shopping crowd.

Don’t get me started.

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BNM Writers

Seth Leibsohn Expected to Move to Phoenix, Didn’t Expect Radio Show

“There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air.

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We’re all made up of a unique genetic recipe. Take a graduate student of political philosophy, add a pinch of love of contemporary politics, a dash of popular culture, maybe a trumpet, and you have Seth Leibsohn.

“I was a good trumpet player in high school,” Leibsohn said. Still, that alone wasn’t enough for him to pursue it as a career, even though his parents were fine with him chasing something he enjoyed, even supportive. “Some parents try to push you into a career, but my parents never did. I thought I might be able to play the trumpet as a career, but ultimately decided I wasn’t as good as my trumpet heroes. I’ve heard golfers have hung it up in a similar way.”

Quoting Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, ‘The finest line a man’ll walk is between success at work and success at home.’ To be truly happy you’ve got to have both. Seth Leibsohn couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t know many people who are thrilled with what they do for a living,” Leibsohn continued. “I believe you work to pay bills, not for life satisfaction. Billy Joel said there is no magic secret and everybody has happiness within themselves. If you’re truly happy with what you do, you have it all beat.”

The Seth Leibsohn Show airs live on KKNT 960 The Patriot in Phoenix from 3:00-6:00 PM weekdays. Then the show is replayed as a podcast. “The podcast is essentially the show I do,” Leibsohn said. “It’s fun. I never thought I’d be on the radio. I started in D.C. with a national show with Bill Bennett, The Bill Bennett Show, as co-host and guest host.”

You may recall Bennett was appointed the drug czar in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.  Bennett still does a podcast and Leibsohn appears as a guest about once a month. He was Bennett’s chief of staff for many years.

Leibsohn decided to move back to Phoenix in 2011 to take care of his parents.

“After I arrived I was approached to host my own show,” he said. “I like that it doesn’t have to be relegated to a local audience. I get calls from Texas, Chicago, Ukraine. Leibsohn describes himself as a ‘different’ radio host, “I started in academia,” he explained. “There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air. The show is a vital seminar, with a bigger classroom.”

Leibsohn works hard on the show as he doesn’t have a producer. “I have to find my own guests, which I average about one each day. Television show hosts don’t have to track down and book their own guests. I start reading from the moment I wake up, searching for something interesting, a guest that can provide some insight to a topic.”

He’s long been a staunch advocate against the legalization of marijuana. He headed the group ‘Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy’, which was instrumental in preventing the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. He has co-authored several articles with Bennett regarding the dangers of marijuana, which was picked up by numerous newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Doing whatever he can to rid the streets of drugs and the pollution of our children is essentially what make’s Libsohn tick. It may be more accurate to say it drives him.

When talking about ridding streets of drugs throughout the country, I was impressed that Leibsohn wasn’t hypocritical. He said he wasn’t above having a good time with friends in college, but recognized there was a time to stop.

“I partied with the best of them,” he said. “Then I saw four of my best friends, who were both far smarter than me academically, ultimately fail in their lives. They just couldn’t give up the partying and substances and succumbed to a lot of drug use.”

Another bolt of realization about the destruction of drugs for Leibsohn stems from his sister struggling with substances her entire life. “I guess I had more of a vector about what it could do to you. Drugs cause so many problems in our society. It’s an ongoing battle to protect our children.”

Working on reducing substance abuse in America has long been a passion for Leibsohn. Working with Bennett helped fuel that desire. Leibsohn spent time working for the Higher America initiative with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Never a fan of Hilary Clinton, Leibsohn said he agrees with the former First Lady on one thing.

“Hilary said Mexico is a problem regarding illegal drugs, but if the citizens of America didn’t want the drugs, it would be a problem. People want this crud. Since we lost the anti-drug messaging system in America, the problems have spiraled out of control.”

Remember the old ad, ‘This is your brains on drugs?’ That’s the messaging Leibsohn is talking about. Leibsohn said when Bennett was drug czar, 10,000 Americans were dying each year. Since then the death toll has increased 1,000 percent.

“We reduced drug use by 65 percent in 1992,” Leibsohn said. “I attribute that to the messaging. It was hugely important. We embedded the anti-drug message at the movies, in schools, there was a Hollywood sobriety chic. We did for drugs what mothers did for drunk driving.”

Leibsohn cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote, ‘Human desires increase with their means of gratification.’

“The narration in the television show Narco opens with the narrator talking about cocaine. He said they had a supply problem keeping up with the demand for the drug in Miami.”

Leibsohn intended to run for Congress in 2018, but his staff screwed-the-pooch.

“My campaign management didn’t get enough signatures,” Leibsohn said. “I made sure everyone who contributed to my campaign got their money back.” He said he has no biting need to run for office again.

Our conversation swerved into another contentious topic–immigration from Mexico. Leibsohn said our immigration problem is currently out of control.

“There are a lot of reasons for the problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one single answer or solution. I do know we’re giving billions of dollars annually to illegal immigrants. When the monthly numbers come out regarding the prison population in Arizona, the illegal immigrants count for a huge portion of those criminals.”

He said there have been good examples of cleaning up cities, like New York. “There are things that work,” Leibsohn explained. “We have to replicate those efforts and dump the things that don’t work. Indianapolis is another city that turned things around. There are theories that work when applied.”

Leibsohn spoke of disparate impact, when policies and rules have a disproportionate impact on a particular group.

“I think a lot of Left-wing prosecutors abhor statistics of racial minorities. In effect they turn a blind eye, a deaf ear when it comes to crime. I had hoped by now we could get beyond race, see policies enacted in my lifetime.”

We also talked about what constitutes American conservatism, which is delineated by low taxes, free markets, deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending and government debt. Leibsohn thinks the definition of American Conservatism is more nebulous than that.

“I think American Conservatism has never had a good definition,” he said. “Perhaps the most prominent recent conservative was William F. Buckley Jr. He never wrote a book on American Conservatism as he said it was too diverse.”

Regarding pinpointing what American Conservatism actually is, Leibsohn said it’s really clay in the hands of those you ask. “Some say it’s a group that believes in limited government,” he explained. “There are some who will fold religious beliefs into that, some may add sociology.”

He said throughout his life, he’s always been in search of discovering the meaning.

“In Buckleys’ National Review Magazine, he debated this all the time,” Leibsohn explained. “He had always been in search of the meaning. In his magazine, Buckley debated this all the time. In my own view it should be a movement based on America’s founding fathers ethos–equity and liberty. There’s not a lot of agreement on these things today.”

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BNM Writers

Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

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Andrew Marsh of 101 ESPN in St. Louis details the unorthodox background that has helped him thrive in the producer’s chair for The Fast Lane.

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