PHOTOGRAPHIC and SOUND INVESTIGATIONS

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When you sound different...

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This. A thousand times this.

Transom’s HowSound is excellent at all times. It is not for everybody, but if you have any, even a passing, interest in how things you hear on radio (or on a podcast) end up sounding that way, you should do yourself a favour and listen to a few episodes. The episode with Chenjerai Kumanyika, the co-host of Uncivil, a Peabody winning show about the other history of American Civil War and professor of journalism at Rutgers, really struck a cord because , at 44, I don’t really know what I sound like and I never heard anybody like me on Canada’s public radio.

More than 12 years ago, when I was still applying for jobs at CBC Radio, I was told, after another unsuccessful interview that the market is not ready to accept somebody who sounds like me. Thanks to a good friend who at the time worked at CBC (hey Dave!) and the stellar producers such as Christina Harnett and the crew at now defunct Dispatches, I got an occasional chance to tell a radio story. But those were exceptions. More than a dozen years later, I listen to the radio and it seems that “the market” is still not ready to accept somebody sounding like me or sounding different in any shape or form. Sure, once in a while you hear a refugee telling you a story or an immigrant recounting their experience of settling in this vast country, but have you ever heard a host who sounded different. And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of hosts coming from all sorts of backgrounds, but they are as average, bland Canadian sounding as any white protestant boy with a degree from University of Toronto.

It feels weird that in 25 years in Canada I never heard a host that has an accent. Ever. And I listen to a lot of radio. And it’s not just first generation immigrants whose English still carries within it a melody of another language, but when was the last time you heard somebody who actually sounds like a Newfoundlander hosting a show? Unlike the UK or the US where an NPR show from Chicago sounds differently from an NPR show from New York and where BBC Scotland wouldn't dream of trying to sound like BBC London, in Canada we like it uniform and bland. In fact so uniform and bland that in this province, not that long ago, Newfoundlanders attending Memorial University were taught, in special classes, how to lose their embarrassing, rural accents that then, like now, “the market” just couldn’t cope with.

The thing is that this country sounds so much richer, so much different than what we hear on our public radio. We need to hear those voices and we need to hear them not as the other, but as us. I don’t want a radio show where a Bangladeshi and a Ukrainian talk about immigration. I want to hear those voices telling me about a snow day and spring concert at my daughters’ schools because those are their children’s schools as well. I want to hear them telling me about the federal and provincial candidates who think that people who sound different shouldn't even be in this country and I want them to tell me about another freaking blizzard in April and any other old story you can imagine.

But I can’t hear that. And so I don’t know what I sound like, because I always tried to sound like what I am supposed to sound like and I am terrible at it. Maybe, at 44, it’s finally time to figure that bit about myself out.