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“Host Whisperer” David Candow passes, leaves good ideas for VO talent

Edge Studio

Although VO talent should usually not try to sound like disc jockeys, announcers or famous newscasters, there are some things to be learned from on-air talent, especially those who were coached by consultant David Candow.

Candow passed away on Sept 18, at age 74. He was known as “The Host Whisperer.”

In 2008, the Washington Post called Candow (pronounced “Can-doe”), “one of the most sought-after vocal training specialists in the English-speaking world.”

Candow was formerly a CBC producer ranging from drama to current affairs. Then, for the past couple decades, he taught CBC and NPR radio hosts and others how to avoid being stereotypes or clichés – how to communicate more personally, naturally, quickly and clearly. How to be more effective.

And because News involves writing, he also taught how to write more effectively. (We originally wrote, “he espoused principles for effective writing, too.” Candow would probably have preferred the revision.)

Many of Candow’s insights apply also to voice acting. We’ve corralled a few of his thoughts from online, appending our own reflections with regard to voice over. (Apologies if a quotation is not verbatim. Some may have been paraphrased by the source.)

“Just be yourself. You don’t have to sound like everyone else or anyone else.” Especially this. Only you sound like you. Only you have your unique combination of voice, personality and all the other factors you bring to a microphone. That is your key “product difference.”

“Don’t announce. Talk. Don’t act.” We’ve often advised to avoid “announcing” a script. But we would hardly disparage “acting” in “voice acting.” However, that’s probably not what Candow meant by this. Bear in mind that most of his students were journalists and others not trained as actors. The point is to avoid artifice. Even among thespians, this is sensible advice. As Spencer Tracy said, “Don’t let them catch you acting.”

“Talk to someone you know.” In the same vein, Candow advised, “Don’t pretend you’re talking to someone — you are.” That’s VO 101. To elaborate, this means don’t say, “I’m talking to a young child.” Instead, say, “I’m talking to my niece Jennifer.” And if you’re voicing animation, don’t pretend to be a bunny. BE a bunny.

“One thought per sentence.” Granted, this is advice for writing, not reading. Candow taught to write for the ear, not for the eye. Listeners don’t have the luxury of going back to parse a sentence they didn’t quite understand. Simple sentences make it easier for a listener to grasp each thought before moving to the next. But voice artists generally aren’t free to change the script, so how does this apply to VO? Simple: Remember that the listener can’t see your script. This has at least four implications:

1. Enunciate. Make good diction a habit, so that when it’s really important, you can enunciate well, without overdoing it, and you will still sound natural.

2. Beware of homonyms (sound-alike words). In context, not all homonyms are confusing, but if the meaning would be unclear to a listener, that is something to mention to the Director or client, in a way that doesn’t offend the writer.

3. By your choice of phrasing, inflection, etc., you can often make a complex sentence easier to follow. Of course, first you have to understand the sentence yourself. If after thought you don’t completely get it, ask.

4. The idea of “one thought per sentence” is analogous to the principle of “a different emotion for each thought.” We’ve mentioned this concept in previous articles [ ] and in our Weekly Script Recording Contest. Here we’ll simply note that change of emotion is another tool you can use to convey meaning.

“You can have 20 years of experience and it could be just 20 years of one year’s experience.” The same is true in voice over. Continually learn and grow. VO markets, styles and subject matter are constantly evolving. Keep up with trends in our industry and your customers’ industries. Improve and expand your capabilities. And be aware of what’s new in the world. It will make you a stronger, more saleable talent.

“Nothing is more compelling to the human ear than the sound of another human voice.” We’ll simply paraphrase this by noting that a “real” human voice is the most believable and compelling of all.

“Love the craft.” We’re not sure he used exactly this phrase, but from people’s statements, clearly Candow loved his craft and wanted his students to love theirs. The enthusiasm comes across in a journalist’s work. Many people have also remarked on Candow’s infectious sense of humor. All of this also applies to the craft of acting.

So, actually, there are some things VO talent can learn from radio talent — if it’s the right sort of talent, with the right sort of training. You may already have been influenced by people who had the benefit of David Candow’s coaching. Learn from them.

Just don’t imitate them.


Online there are many thoughtful remembrances of Candow and further examples of his teachings.

“Writing for Radio,” by David Candow

Profile by The Washington Post (2008):

Remembrance by NPR’s Scott Simon:

Remembrance by CBC Radio:

A Tumblr page of tributes: