R.A.P. Interview: Howard Hoffman

JV: KABC is the LA Dodgers station. How busy does that keep you?
Howard: Very. We have to do a “next game” promo, and then a “this game” promo, and then keep up with all the highlights and try to incorporate what happened, not necessarily in the last game, but in recent games just to keep the promos sounding fresh and keep everything sounding up-to-date. But it’s something I’ve been doing since I got here, because when I first got here, KMPC had the Angels. Then, KABC had the Dodgers. Then ESPN got the Angels, again. And then KABC got the Dodgers, again. So I’ve never really left it; it’s always been there, and I’ve always been there to handle it. And of course, opening day, which happened yesterday, is always a nightmare because there’s always a last-minute sponsor that wants to get into the billboard, which is a six-minute production. So of course, every time we get a new sponsor in there, I have to redo it, move everything over by five seconds and then load it back into the system. Then on one version, we have, “Here’s Rick Monday!” and on another version we have, “Here’s Charlie Steiner!” or whoever wants to open the pre-game show first. So yeah, it’s always an absolute nightmare whenever a season starts, but once we get past opening day, it’s kind of a free ride from there.

JV: I would imagine, over the 15 years you’ve been there, that you’ve had a few players come in the studio and do some stuff for you.
Howard: Surprisingly, no. Fortunately for us, we have a very good onsite producer by the name of Josh Cumming, and he’s able to get all the player drop-ins we want. He hands the scripts to the players, and fortunately for the Dodgers, we have some players that are just great on the microphone. One is a young guy, a young pitcher, Clayton Kershaw; he’s magnificent. I would love for him to actually do some promos for us down the road. But the one who comes into the studio here and who will do some stuff for us is none other than Vin Scully, and he is just 100 percent cooperative. What you see on the air is what you see in real life. He just can’t do enough for you, and he can’t do enough for the team. He’s magnificent to work with, and I just feel that I’m very blessed to work with somebody like that, to work with Vin Scully himself. It’s just amazing.

JV: Is Josh Cumming part of your department?
Howard: No. Josh Cumming is the onsite producer for the Dodgers. I have an assistant here, kind of a co-Production Director. His name is Mike Sherry, and he helps out with the commercial load. I’ll voice it and he’ll put it together. And he’s fast. He’s like one of the fastest people I’ve ever worked with, and that helps.

JV: I saw a list some of your freelance clients that was rather impressive and long. What are some of the things that we might be hearing you on now?
Howard: Right now I have a pretty long-running thing going on with TV spots for Arby’s, which I think is in your area there in Texas. Most of what all of us do in commercial voiceover is very regional. A few of us will actually land something national.

JV: What about our readers in LA… What might they hear you on?
Howard: That would be Sprint. There’s a NASCAR series with Sprint where I tell somebody… a second person in the spot who’s not me, amazingly enough! I’m so used to talking to myself on my promos that when I actually do a commercial with somebody else, it’s a real treat. Anyway, I’m telling them that they can’t be at the race or they can’t watch it on TV because they’re camping with their in-laws, or they’re going to miss their daughter’s ballerina recital, and so I tell them they can watch the race and hear all the stuff on their Sprint phone. That one’s been running for a while. Another one that ran for quite a while was REI, and that folded a couple of years ago, right when we won the Gold Award from the Radio Advertising Marketing Association. The spots won the Gold Award for the Best Campaign, so of course, they dropped the advertising agency, changed agencies, and that was the end of that campaign. Another true Hollywood story.

JV: Are you working much out of a home studio?
Howard: I would love to! I do have a home studio, but the trouble is we live in a condo overlooking the ocean, and the condo is just one big, wide-open space. There are no rooms. We have like a space for the bedroom and a loft for the office. And we have a dog, two cats, and a bird, and absolutely zero peace and quiet at any given time. So as much as I tried to build these partitions and made a cubicle for myself and all that… No, I can’t do it. I really have to get a house that actually has rooms in it. So, I have a home studio, and if anybody wants to make me an offer on it, I’ll be more than happy to talk to them.

JV: You must spend a lot of time at the station then.
Howard: Yeah, I do.

JV: What’s the best way to develop character voices? Are there any shortcuts to it?
Howard: I actually got some really good training once I started really doing the voiceover thing in LA. I trained with Susan Blu  -- who is a voice talent herself but she’s also a casting director -- Ginny McSwain, and a very good one, Patrick Fraley. He has actually done some stuff with radio in the past. Once upon a time, he did a syndicated radio contest called, “The Street Mysteries,” and it was Detective Street, that was his last name -- very ingenious idea. What he used to do was customize this entire contest for radio stations. There were little one-minute mysteries, and the contest people could call in and guess why Detective Street came up with this conclusion. What the radio station would do is provide him with local places, local libraries, local police stations, local malls, so on and so forth, and then give them the name of a main street that ended with the word “street.” So in Phoenix’s case, it was Lt. Adam Street, because there was an Adam Street in Phoenix. He would just customize this entire contest for radio stations.

So Patrick Fraley is probably one of the best voice coaches I’ve ever had because he’s the one who essentially beat the radio out of my voice when I have to do more low-key, more conversational stuff. He also taught me a lot of tricks and a lot of tips. So yeah, you can get some really good training if you have access to it.

JV: Is that something you do regularly, maybe once a year, go back and visit your coach?
Howard: Once every couple of years, yeah.

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