R.A.P. Interview: Joe Cipriano

Joe Cipriano, Los Angeles

Joe-Cipriano-Oct02By Tom Richards

Joe Cipriano is a broadcast veteran with over 30 years in the business. He is most widely known as the voice of the Fox and CBS Television Networks. He is also co-host of the world-wide syndicated radio music show, “The World Chart Show.” In 2000, Joe was named the voice of the Grammy Awards, and he vocally represents the Grammys each year as the live announcer on the broadcast. Other “live announcer” gigs include The Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, The VH1 Honors, GQ Magazine’s Men of the Year Awards, Miss U.S.A., and many others. In 1988 the Fox Television Network chose Joe to be their image voice as the fledgling company attempted to take on “The Big 3.” Now Joe’s distinctive sound is heard on over 200 FoxTV stations across the nation for shows such as “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Futurama,” “Malcom in the Middle,” “Mad TV,” and the rest of the successful programs on the FoxNetwork. On CBS he is the voice of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The King of Queens,” “Becker,” “Yes Dear,” and more. He is also the voice of several radio stations across the country. This month’s RAP Interview gets a glimpse at the television promo voice-over business as Joe talks about how he got into TV promos, and we get a sneak preview at Joe’s latest venture, PromoVoice.com.

TR: Where did you get into radio?
Joe: I started in Connecticut in the early ‘70s while I was in high school. I grew up in Connecticut, right outside of Waterbury, and I started at WWCO in Waterbury, 1240 Super CO. We had several Program Directors during my stay there, but the last Program Director I worked with was Joe McCoy who later went on to WCBS-FM. There were a lot of good people at ‘CO. From there I went to WDRC. And then on to Washington, DC where I worked at WKYS. Then it was WRQX, Q107.

TR: So, you’re doing the radio thing, the jock thing; at what point do you figure that doing voiceovers and promos is the thing for you?
Joe: Well, I had always wanted to be in television and strangely enough, I thought that you started in radio and then you automatically went to television. I mean back in the old days, Bing Crosby did that. Jack Benny did it. But in the ‘70s and ‘80s that just wasn’t happening. I did end up doing some on camera stuff, but then I just got interested in doing voiceovers because I was in radio anyhow, and I was in a major market, so I started pursuing that.

You know, I get asked this question all the time: how do you get out of radio and into voiceovers? It came easy for me. I was at Q107, and you know how you have to do production after your shift or before your shift. Well I would take every agency tape that would come in—from McDonald’s and whatever—I’d write down the address of where it came from, whether it was a studio, where it was dubbed or the agency name, and then I sent out my fake voiceover tape of me doing Coca-Cola and all these other spots that I never did. And that’s how I started up my career. Because of that I started doing stuff in DC. I started doing very well in DC, but it was all local spots, and anything I did nationally was really only public service announcements. I wanted to do more big-time stuff. And that’s when I started thinking about TV networks. I really got this desire to become a network voice, and I started listening to guys who did it, like Ernie Anderson, and later, a guy who became my mentor, Danny Dark. He was the voice of NBC forever. The great thing about Danny was that Danny could do comedies and dramas, and he did them both incredibly well. And he also had a certain style about him I just thought was the coolest. And he is to this day the coolest man I know. I call him a hipster. I wish I could be as cool as him. He’ll call me on the phone and go, “Josie, Josie. It’s D-Squared, baby! How are ya? Listen Josie, I love you. I heard you last night on Fox and listen baby, nobody does it like you, buddy, nobody.” It’s like talking to a jazz musician. That’s Danny.

TR: Is Danny working a lot anymore or is he just kind of twiddling his toes in the sand?
Joe: Danny retired. Danny travels the world. My wife Ann and I just had dinner with Danny and Jobie, his wife, and they had just come back from Paris. They’d spent a month there.

When I first met Danny, he called me and he said, “Josie, I want to get into this ISDN thing, baby. How do I do that?” I was living in Pacific Palisades at the time, and I said, “Well, come on over to the house.” He was living in Brentwood, California. He came over with a bag of tomatoes because Danny always grows tomatoes in his back yard. He came and he saw how my studio was put together and how ISDN was done. I showed him how you set it up and he sat in on a Fox session I was doing. He liked the idea of not having to leave home to work. So he built this incredible, beautiful studio.  My studio was not fancy, kind of like a warehouse. It was in my basement and I had gray carpet on the walls and ceiling for sound. It was nothing special. Well Danny went and hired a decorator and did this incredible studio. It was small but it was beautiful. It was in a guesthouse in the back of his Brentwood home, and it was just unbelievable.

He worked out of the studio for a while, and then he called me maybe eight months later. I said, “How’s the studio going?” He goes, “Ahhh, Josie, I gave up on that.” I said, “Why, what do you mean?” He said, “Oh, I got tired of going out and doing sessions.” And I said, “But Danny, you’re just walking out to your back yard.” He goes, “Yeah, I know. I didn’t want to do it if it was less than three sessions. It wasn’t worth it to me.” That’s just the way it was. He doesn’t need it. So, he’s having a great life. He knows how to live, and that’s another reason why he’s my mentor.

TR: So you’re in DC, sending out the phony tapes to all the guys. What’s your next move at that point?
Joe: Well, then I figured I wanted to do network promos and national spots, and they weren’t happening in Washington, DC. My wife worked in television. She was a news writer and producer, and she worked locally in DC. So we said, okay, we have to go to either New York or LA. So we booked a 10-day trip where half of it we spent in New York and stayed at the Plaza Hotel. We had this incredible time in New York and then hopped in a plane and flew out to LA and stayed at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. We rented a convertible Mercedes and said, “Okay, which one do we like better?” It was no contest; we liked LA better. And I’ve learned now in later years how great New York is but because I grew up in Connecticut, I never appreciated New York City. It was too big, it felt confining, and it was everything that Connecticut wasn’t. It’s not like I grew up in the Country Club areas of Connecticut. I grew up in a very blue-collar town, but it was still very suburban. And so I really related to California more because it’s very suburban. Add to that, the weather is incredible, and that’s where TV was. I knew going in that I really wanted to be in LA.

So then I spent probably a good eight months trying to get a radio job in LA because  I was not going to move out here as a starving actor. I wanted to move out with a job.

TR: Did your wife nail a job?
Joe: No, not beforehand. But I knew she would score something quickly because she was an east coast schooled woman working in broadcasting. And as soon as we got out here, she got a job for KABC Channel 7, and worked with them for about seven years and eventually got into the Directors Guild and became a field producer for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. She’s an Emmy winner. And then we had kids and she was able to stop working, which was great. So that’s what we did. We came out here.

TR: So, there you are. You threw yourself into the talent pool and said, “It’s sink or swim.” How do you find a way to position yourself away from the other 10,000 guys?
Joe: Well, it happened just because I have the voice that I have. I don’t have a big, deep voice. And I happened to be going after promos. And not knowing that I didn’t have a chance in hell of being a network promo guy because I didn’t have the voice of Ernie Anderson, Danny Dark, Chuck Riley and all the other guys who were doing it at the time, I was ignorant. Ignorance was bliss, and I kept going after it. I found an agent pretty quick and started doing the same trick that I did in DC. I sent out my fake demos to all the ad agencies and did that whole thing again.

Then eventually things started happening. My first big gig was actually in movie trailers. I did a ton of teen movies in the early ‘80s. I did Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which went on to be kind of a classic. If you get the DVD today, my voice is on the trailer. I did Tom Cruise’s early movies like All the Right Moves and Tom Hank’s early movies like Bachelor Party and Tom Hank’s brother’s movie, which was awful. I did all these teen movies. I did all the Porky’s series. That was the only place where my voice fit at the time.

It’s all about timing, and the trends and styles change all the time. And it will continue to change, and I will no longer be a network voice at some point because styles will change. At some point it will go a different direction. Hopefully, women will be the next change in network voices because it’s about time that that happens, and hopefully that will.

TR: They’re kind of drifting in there slowly.
Joe: They’re getting there, but it’s so slow, it’s ridiculous. It’s obscene. It’s one of the things that just drives me crazy. I know all of these marketing guys from the networks. They’ll finally bring a woman in to do some voice work, and I’ll do the usual, “Sunday, it’s an all new Simpson’s…” and blah, blah, blah, and then the woman gets one line at the end of the promo. That’s ridiculous. Little by little, they’re getting to do more, but it reminds me of  broadcasting and the way it was in radio when there were no women on the air and then eventually, women started to get on the air on Top 40. Soon it wasn’t an issue anymore. Same thing with TV News. You never saw a woman anchor. Then little by little women started to become anchors, and now it’s not an issue. If I were to go to my kids and say, “You know, there was a time when there were no women on TV news,” they wouldn’t believe me, “What? You’re kidding me! That’s ridiculous.” Or that there were never women D.J.s on Top 40 radio stations. That’s like unheard of. And here we are in 2002, and there are still no women, really, doing network promos except for, thank God, Lifetime Network and some others. But for the core four networks, it’s just a little here and there. But that will change, eventually.

TR: And when that does change, where is that going to put you? Will Joe be moving on to something bigger and better?
Joe: You just try to keep up. I love doing what I’m doing. But you continue to look over the horizon and see what’s coming up and where I can fit best. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been at Fox for almost fifteen years. And CBS, I’ve been there since ’97, doing both of them at the same time, which is a trick, you know. The thing is, I think it’s very much like having a hit sitcom; it can only go for a certain amount of time. Maybe you will get ten years out of it, but, at some point, listen, this is going to start to get a little old. Again, styles change and younger people come in with new ideas and new ways of marketing and new ways of doing shows. And all of a sudden, your sitcom is kind of over because it’s played out. It can’t go on forever, that’s for sure. From the first day you start the dream gig, you must enjoy it thoroughly because unfortunately, it’s only going to last for a certain amount of time, and it’s going to have to end at some point. So enjoy it while you’ve got it.

TR: So how did you actually land the Fox gig?
Joe: In 1987 this little network came on called Fox, and they decided that they were going to go after young adults. They were going to do everything that was the complete opposite of what the big three networks were doing. And to go along with that, they needed a marketing campaign that would be young and different and completely new. And then one day my voice got heard by the head of promos, a guy named Bob Bibb, who was driving home from Fox one day to his home in Simi Valley, which is like an hour drive if you’re lucky. He was listening to KIIS FM, and I was on the air. Now, I had sent Fox my demo tape over and over again, but I guess it never really got heard. Or maybe it did get heard, but it didn’t make an impression. He was driving home and heard me on the air filling in for Big Ron O’Brien on KIIS FM one afternoon and called KIIS from his car phone—and in 1987, there weren’t a lot of car phones. He called and found out who my agent was and said, “Hey, let’s get a tape of this guy.” Fox had been on the air for less than a year and the guy they were using went on vacation for two weeks, and I went in and started doing promos for them. I’d never read to video before. When we do network promos, you get three beeps at the top of the spot and then the spot starts. You have your script and, out of the corner your eye, you’re looking at the TV monitor. And you read live, pretty much. It’s kind of like being on the air in radio and talking up a record. You read live to the promo.

So I learned pretty quickly, in two weeks, how to do this. And at the end of two weeks, the guy who was doing it before me wasn’t getting the calls anymore. I was getting the calls, which reminded me of something I learned from Mark Elliott back in the early ‘80s, back when I hung around CBS trying to learn the biz. Mark, at the time, told me two things: never buy a house based on voiceover and never take a vacation. And here it is, this guy took a vacation for two weeks and ended up losing his gig. He did fine afterwards and went on to do very well in his career, but he just happened to lose that one gig at that time. That was fifteen years ago and I’m still doing it.

TR: So, for the people that are reading this magazine and listening to your stuff and admiring Joe Cipriano and his career, what can you say to those guys about what they can do, not necessarily to do promos, to do what you do, but to make a major contribution to the field of voiceover?
Joe: I get a lot of e-mails every week with just that question. Having a website and being public, people can always get in touch with me, and I love getting e-mails from men and women who are getting into voiceover. I get them from people that are working for Federal Express, and I get them from people who are working in radio or who are actors. The emails come from so many different fields. Usually, I answer each and every one of them because, not only do I like doing that, I feel that it’s a way that I can kind of give something back a little bit. Not that I have all the answers, but I certainly can tell them what I did and what I think they can

do, to have a shot at it. It really depends on where they are. I mean, if you’re in a big city, it’s really easy to find workshops for voiceover or to get to acting classes. There are so many that you can do in New York and LA and Chicago and San Francisco, and then it starts to get tougher as you get out of the top 10 markets.

Sometimes I get people that are sending an e-mail from some little town somewhere, and it’s hard to come up with something for them. They can check with their local colleges. See if you can find an acting coach there. Maybe there’s an AFTRA or SAG office nearby in a bigger city that has a list of people who do voiceover workshops. And then there are people like Maurice Tobias who travels all over the country and does workshops. Maybe you can hook up with somebody like that. But it’s tough. If there’s nothing, I usually suggest they get into radio, at least. That’s something you can do locally. You can even start in college and go to a college radio station or go to your local radio station and do something, anything to get in the door.

It’s tough. It helps to be in a major city. So you’ve got to do what you can and use the resources that are nearby. I always try to come up with something, to help them move forward, because we all have to move forward. You don’t want to be stuck in the same place. I think, for a voiceover person, there are three really major careers. Commercials, TV Promos--which is what I do, and I’ve been very lucky with having been able to work for the networks and for syndication and Disney and all of these different syndicated shows. And then there’s Trailers, which is a whole other thing, which I have not had success in. It’s something that I aspire to do and would love to, and I continue to keep taking a shot at it.

TR: Although you did those early trailers for the Tom Hanks things and the Tom Cruise things.
Joe: Yeah, I did. And things like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which couldn ’t be more cutting edge at the time. But you see, that’s how this style curve is. It’s like being on a roller coaster. Back then it was, “…well, let’s use this young voice, this lighter voice for these hip movies.” Now they’re using young and thinner voices for network promos and so forth because they want a more real sound for TV. And believe it or not, the trailers have gone to the deep voice guys. That’s the curve now, and hopefully it’ll curve again and they’ll use guys that sound like me on trailers.

TR: And of course there’s the radio stuff you’re doing.
Joe: Yes, and radio is an entirely different thing. It’s an entirely different performance. It’s an entirely different business. A lot of the guys that I work with in network promos don’t do radio, don’t know how to do radio, are not sure if they’re even interested in it because, frankly, they like going into a studio and knocking out twenty-five promos and getting $200 a piece and then jumping into their car and moving on. Whereas, when  I do my radio stations, I’m sitting in my studio and doing it myself. I record it to Pro Tools and edit and then FTP it up to my site where it’s downloaded by the stations. A lot of voice guys aren’t into that, but I love it because I come from radio. I love doing imaging for radio stations because I get to do something different. You get to be more creative, at least with what I do. I leave in my outtakes. I like to improv, and a lot of the production guys use these takes and put them into the promos. I think it adds to the image of the radio stations. And with a lot of my stations, I’m really proud to say that I feel that I’m one of the personalities on the station. Whereas, what I do everyday, day in and day out, with network promos is basically, “CBS Monday…,” you know, “Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS Monday.” And it’s straight and cut and dry and that’s it. You stick to the script. With radio, I get to be more creative and go in a more creative direction. That’s why I love it so much.

TR: I did exactly that kind of stuff with your outtakes when I was at Mix 95.7 last year.
Joe: Oh, you’re kidding. Well then you know the other end of it as well. You know the voiceover side and you know the production end of it. I don’t know if my style is the norm, giving a lot of outtakes and different reads and all of that. I’m not sure. But it seems to work.

TR: What I did when I was at B101 in Philly with John Pleisse is we would do our sessions live, and when I wrote, I really had an idea in mind of what I wanted. And not that it was something that John couldn’t do, but frequently there were things that John was not used to doing because nobody was asking him. As a result, we’d often get these quirky outtakes that you can’t coach, you can’t predict.
Joe: Yeah. And they’re golden. That’s when that good stuff would come out.

TR: It was great and John is just a great talent. I’ve discussed with him that I was going to go out on my own to do commercials, and one thing he said was, “Yeah, you got to do that. You got the voice,” and he said, “It’s great too because you can go out.” He said, “I’m chained the freaking Zephyr all day.”
Joe: Oh, yeah, getting chained to the ISDN. I never wanted to get into that because you are stuck in your home studio or wherever you are. And once that happens, you’re cutting yourself out of doing a lot of other things. I always try to manage my day so that I’m doing anything ISDN in the morning. I don’t have a lot of radio stations. I have maybe about fifteen radio stations that I do, and for me, it comes down to time. And that’s time versus money. And this isn’t about ego or anything like that, but I can’t get on the ISDN with fifteen radio stations and do a session and chitchat with the production guy. Then all of a sudden the Program Director comes in. Sure, we all have a great time. We have a wonderful time, but, boy, time zips by, and  unfortunately, I don’t have that time. I need to get on with things.

I’m with Adam Goodman at Voice Hunter. Adam does all of the marketing for me. He talks to radio stations all the time and when they’re interested in  using me, Adam makes the deal. No ISDN, all MP3. And I’m sure for as many stations as I’m doing, there have been just as many who have said, ”Well, screw him. Who the hell does he think he is if he’s not going to do a session with us once a week on ISDN?” I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to find great radio stations with incredibly creative people who fax or e-mail me their scripts, and I do my sessions in my studio by myself. It’s like being back on the radio again. I just have a blast. I have fun. I laugh, I take their copy and do what they want. And you know what, that copy you mentioned that you wrote and you hear it in a certain way, believe it or not most times I can look at that copy and know immediately what you’re going for.

TR: Not everybody can do that. But you always got it, and I know because I saw the scripts. I know that you got it.
Joe: Well, you can’t get everything, but sometimes you read it, and you go, “Oh, man, I see where they’re going with this; this is great!” And I’m excited to do it that way and then give it another spin. I always give at least two or three different takes on each liner or promo, three different views. And sometimes there’s a funny line in there that’s written and you do it and it’s great. Then it reminds you of something and you do a little ad-lib and a little improv and just go off on it. I  have a great time doing that, and fortunately I have these stations that allow me to do that.

So thanks to today’s technology, everything I do for every radio station is recorded into Pro Tools. I turn it into an MP3 and upload it to my site, and the Production Director goes there and downloads it. And that’s how we deliver everything, and it works great. There have been rare occasions when we need to redo things, but we do it and get it done.

TR: You have a new service for radio stations on the web at www.Promo Voice.com. Tell us about it.
Joe: Because of the time that’s involved in doing radio stations, I turn down stations sometimes because they can’t come up with the rate. It’s not in their budget or whatever. They have budget constraints and I’ve always felt bad about that because I started in a small market. I think that working in small markets is very important because that’s where the people are who are coming up in the business. And just like in the movie trailer business, I think that some of the most creative people are the young people that are just coming in with their new ideas and something different. And I think you’re missing something if you don’t work with people that are in these smaller markets.

My time doesn’t always allow me to do this, so I’ve come up with this website, this idea called Promovoice.com, which is geared towards small and medium markets. This website hasn’t launched yet. It launches in about two weeks. You’re the first person that I’ve talked to about this. I’ve been working on it for months. Believe it or not, what I’ve done is recorded just about every slogan there is and every handle—Star, Mix, The Point—you name it,  I’ve recorded it and uploaded it to this site.  And when new stations come on, and their slogan or handle isn’t there, I record the new stuff and put it up there. So it’s always growing It’s a digital library, all MP3. And with this, I can now offer my services to smaller markets for 1/10th of what radio stations are paying. Pricing is based on market size and so forth. And what they are able to do is come into the library—they get a password and code—and choose from hundreds of slogans and lines that are continually updated. So if you’re "Star 98.9 The Best Hits of the 80’s 90’s and Today," it’s up there along with just about every slogan you’d want for your air. They can download whatever they need  to image their station. And if their handle or slogans are not there and they want to be part of the service, I’ll record what they need and put it up there.

The files are color coded. There are Red Lines and Blue Lines. The reds are the up-tempo reads and the blues are the mellow ones. So you can mix and match all these different lines and tempos to make liners and sweepers. I call it Joe Cipriano Lite. It’s all the same kind of material I’ve done for my custom stations, but now stations can license my voice to be on their station. The lowest rates are $75 per month for small markets. And I have two other voice talents that are on the site with me right now, and I have more voice talent that will go on it as well. And, hopefully, it’ll be something that smaller or medium markets can take advantage of and have access to voices that are normally heard on the bigger radio stations because they have bigger budgets.

I love working with KLSX in Los Angeles and Star in San Diego and all these stations, but quite frankly they can afford anybody they want. They don’t have to have me. They can pay for anybody. This service is for the stations out there that go, “Hmm, I’d like to have that Joe Cipriano guy. I hear him on CBS and Fox, but man, I can’t afford him.” Well now you can.

So getting back to your question earlier about what would be down the road for me after Fox and CBS, well this is something I’ve been working on. I think the technology is at a point now where something like this can work.. And each station that signs up for it gets a custom start-up session with their voice where they get their top of the hour ID, their jock names, and all of that. They get one session that’s included in the deal, and then you just download the other material that’s continually updated all the time.

TR: You know that it’s been done before.
Joe: Tell me.

TR: Ernie Anderson. They took all of Ernie’s bits and cut them up and Ernie lives.
Joe: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. And you know, the idea for PromoVoice.com was kind of a left turn from that. I was at CBS one day and one of the producers said, “You know, you’ve recorded pretty much every word we’ll ever use on the network. You realize that you’ve said ‘Sunday,’ you’ve said ‘Monday,’ you’ve said ‘all new,’ you’ve said ‘the television event of the year,’ you’ve said everything that we’re ever freaking going to use. You ought to just record it all.” He actually said, “Why don’t you go record the dictionary, and then when you’re dead, your kids can live off of your voice.” I was driving home and I knew about Ernie’s thing and I said, “Gee, why do I have to be dead to do that?” Ernie can’t update his library anymore, but I can update mine.

Now, I think that it’s ridiculous to think that you can record everything and it can be used forever, but I do think that this may be a new way that voiceovers can be delivered, a different skew on things. I don’t know, it remains to be seen. We’ll see how it goes.

I always think, what’s next for me, what can I do to be different, what hasn’t been done. You take a shot at something new and you see what happens.

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