Saturday, January 8, 2011

Goodbye, Columbus

What can I say about Ted Williams that hasn't already been said? He's the viral sensation of the moment, and yet, as a voiceover performer, I'm pressed for my opinion on the matter.

First off, everyone seems to agree that Ted Williams deserves a break, and we all wish him good luck. No one begrudges him for looking for work, taking advantage of an opportunity, and climbing aboard a media rocket to the stars. Yeah, he messed up in the past. A lot of people in radio and other professions manage to stay off the booze and other substances at least enough to keep a job, but these days being clean and sober isn't a guarantee you won't get the sack tomorrow. So, to some degree at one time or another, those of us who've been in the radio biz can relate to Ted's dilemma, and I wish him well. In this era of Snookies and Situations and nondescript rap stars, it's refreshing to see someone with talent, determination, and humility become famous.

Now for the cynicism. Oh, yeah, there's cynicism creeping into this. Maybe I've seen Frank Capra's "Meet John Doe" one too many times, or the fact that Ted sounds like John Tesh, or it could be that you don't work for as long as I have in the media without feeling suspicious of every move somebody makes. I've seen, or been in on, enough radio pranks, publicity stunts, PR maneuvers, and management tap dancing to know very little happens in the media by accident or pure luck. So please forgive me if my first reaction to the viral video was, "Oh. Yeah, Sure. He's homeless like Donald Trump needs pocket change. Nice free commercial for a Columbus oldies station. Clever. And he sound like John Tesh." But Ted turned out to be the real deal, and I for one am relieved that this whole thing hasn't been revealed to be a stupid radio stunt.

But my crap detector is still on full scan. It's cynical of me, I know, but maybe you could understand if you saw things from my point of view. I'm not saying you should be wary of Ted Williams, but you should be wary of the people and organizations looking for ways to exploit him. There are a few things you really ought to be aware of. I can't prove all these things with hard evidence, but trust me... it's true.

Ted Williams is quite cognisant that he is being exploited. He knows people are making themselves look saintly by hiring him or having him on their show. He might've been homeless, but he ain't stupid.

Ted Williams is not his real name. It's a radio name. Trust me. I've heard "Ted Williams" before, and I'm not just talking about the baseball player. It's a double-first-name nom de plume common in the radio biz, like Jim Scott, Jerry Thomas, Randy Michaels, John Stevens, Fred Richards, and Dick Clark, invented back when he was on the air in days gone by. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's smart. Like Superman he needs his privacy when he's not "on," and often times people are born with names that don't lend themselves to easy recognition in a crowded media world. Anybody remember Richard Starkey? So don't be shocked and dismayed when the story breaks that "Ted Williams" is a name he made up.

This had to happen in, of all places, Columbus? Really? What's with all the overnight sensations suddenly coming out of the Buckeye state? "American Idol" plucked Crystal Bowersock out of a wide spot in the road in Crawford County, "So You Think You Can Dance?" found Kent Boyd from Wapakoneta, (even if the judge couldn't find Wapakoneta. It's right next to I-75, you jackwagon.) and "Glee" is alleged to take place in Lima, although a film crew has never set foot here and not so much as an establishing shot has shown the real Lima. Oh, and while it's a coincidence, our new Speaker of the House John Boehner is from West Chester, (take note, news editors and proofreaders. That's how it's spelled, but it's pronounced like one word.) So, here again is another new star bursting onto the scene from Ohio. Don't get me wrong; I love it. But still...

The reporter who shot the viral video works for the Columbus Dispatch, which not only runs a newspaper but also owns radio stations and the leading local TV news station. And yet, the Dispatch Group couldn't find this guy a gig?

Next, I see him in Clear Channel Ohio, the organization that is responsible for more unemployment in Ohio radio than any other since the dawn of history. My Irony Alert was ringing like Big Ben.

Next, it's off to Smaltzapalooza, aka "Today." I hear they had a hell of a time flying him in because "Ted Williams" had no ID. Apparently the TSA folks never watch You Tube.

He swings by "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." I'm sure Leno's people wanted him more, but it was all NBC could do just to get him to New York. I see glimpses of the radio personality he must've been.

It's announced that Ted will be the voice of MSNBC. (An image voice, as we say in the biz) NSNBC says he represents something. Apparently he represents pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. No wait... that can't be right. He represents the FCC's outright disregard if not hostility for broadcast radio. Hmmm, too harsh. I got it. He represents the fact that Clear Channel will hire someone off the street and put him on the air. Nope. We already knew that.

He records his first VO for Kraft, and it's captured on video and put on You Tube. No pressure, Ted, just relax, take a deep breath, and BE A GOD. The session is put on You Tube because the agency representing Kraft realizes Ted Williams' professional goal is to be an unassuming invisible voice, and that's not what this is all about. Send in the clowns and keep this circus running.

Besides, we can't run the risk that when the spot actually airs people at home will say, "Well, whadya know. John Tesh found work. Good for him."

No comments: