You know the voice.
" '7 News at 11' starts now," the smooth, high baritone announces, welcoming viewers to the late-night newscast on WHDH-TV (Channel 7).
If the story is light, his tone teases like a comedic uncle. If the news is tragic, his voice is softer and slower, weighted with compassion.
"It's like an art form, and if you don't think it is, try and do it sometime!" says Scott Chapin, the man behind the voice. "What I bring to the table is attitude more than voice."
Chapin, 54, the signature announcer for WHDH and sister station WLVI-TV (Channel 56), is one of the most famous voices in the local television market, yet viewers never see his face. Three times a day from an audio studio in his home in New Mexico, Chapin records his exuberant promos and teases for WHDH. His voice, in fact, is heard across the country.
In back-to-back 10-minute sessions throughout a 10-hour workday, Chapin records voice-overs for 20 TV stations nationwide, from Miami and Atlanta to Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. In a typical day, he records about 45 sessions.
With advances in high-quality audio transmissions, professional voice-over announcers like Chapin don't have to be locally based to speak for the stations they represent. Full-time vocal artists represent a small pool of TV news announcers of about 100, nationwide, says Frank Frederick, a voice-over professional based in Utah, where he records news promos for 19 TV stations nationwide, including one in Rhode Island.
"The local imaging guy is usually not local," Frederick says. "We call it imaging because it's the image you put in people's heads. You are drawing word pictures in someone's head. You have to be almost over the top without being over the top. You have to be able to create the emotion and the character with what you are trying to say. It's not that easy."
They have also become something like unsung heroes in helping define a station and persuading its viewers not to switch channels. The idea is that the voice-over can act similarly as a logo or catch phrase. In December, NBC began using actor Michael Douglas's voice for the weekday opening announcements for "Nightly News With Brian Williams" to distinguish itself.
Other Boston TV stations rely on anchors or on-air talent to promote breaking stories at the top of the each newscast. Chapin's voice stands out from the crowd because his voice is heard throughout the newscast, introducing various stories, from sign-on to sign-off.
"When I listen to his voice, there isn't anyone like him," says Robert Leider, executive vice president and general manager of Miami's WSVN-TV, another WHDH sister station. Leider hired Chapin nearly 20 years ago, when the station transformed itself by adopting a more aggressive approach, faster pace, and flashy graphics. "As we grew popular, so did Scott. He's so diverse and has such a range. He has that edge. When you hear his voice, you know it's Channel 7."
Right sound, right time
Chapin, a Wisconsin native, got his start in radio working as a DJ and production manager at several radio stations across the country. He eventually landed in Miami to work as production director for a rock radio station, which was next door to WSVN. In 1989, when WSVN became a Fox affiliate and sought to rebrand itself, station officials tapped Chapin for voice-over work for their if-it-bleeds-it-leads reincarnation. As other news stations began to take notice of WSVN's dramatic approach, Chapin amassed a TV news following. He began getting offers for voice-over work nationwide. He hired an agent in New York City to help him secure deals.
"I was at the right place at the right time," says Chapin, who eventually moved to Detroit and then to Albuquerque, where he lives with his wife, Susan. The couple, who have been married for 33 years, have three grown children.
When WSVN's owner, Sunbeam Television Corp., bought WHDH in 1993, they imported Chapin's voice to Boston.
"We had to become less institutional [in Boston]," says Leider. "We went big and bold, and we needed a voice that was big and bold, and Scott fit that bill. We brought the elements that made us successful, and part of that is Scott Chapin's voice."
To folks who might think that Chapin has an easy gig that involves spending his day watching TV so he can talk about the news, think again. The job requires him to read scripts that range from storms to homicides, every weekday, on the hour, in four time zones.
"Everyone has a 10 or 11 p.m. newscast. You have to be accommodating to a certain degree," says Chapin, who works as an independent contractor for each station.
His son Brent works as a senior promotions producer at KDVR-TV (Channel 31) in Denver, one of the stations the elder Chapin contracts with. Brent Chapin says it feels as though his father is always around him.
"Anywhere I go, I can't escape his voice," says Chapin, 28, who remembers sneaking into his father's studio as a kid to watch him in action. "When I was growing up, I had no idea how big he really was or the amount of people who had heard him. It's not what he says but how he says it which sets him apart. He's so versatile."
Scott Chapin has to texture his voice to humanize the in-your-face and this-just-in news alerts, whether they are about an abused puppy or a bridge collapse.
"If it's a sensitive story and the graphics are soft, you don't want to give it the hard news read. You want to orchestrate it to what the producers want to accomplish," says Chapin. "It's not as easy as it sounds. You are dealing with time frames, and you are dealing with transitions."
There are drawbacks to talking into a microphone all day.
"It's a lonely job," confesses Chapin, who reads scripts that producers e-mail him throughout the day. He spends his day standing in a 4-foot-square studio in a guest house behind his adobe-style home. "I get to speak to people on the [telephone] line, but I never get any human contact with them." To break the monotony, he whips out his guitar and bangs on his drums to work on his spiritual music during breaks. He, local Catholic priest Scott Mansfield, and musician Rob Martinez make up the Christian rock band Xaltar.
It's just before 3 p.m. Boston time, and Chapin's lunch hour is wrapping up. He's done a morning block of news promos. Coming up next: Afternoon voice-over sessions for Boston, Salt Lake City, Detroit, San Antonio, and Dallas. Speaking as if he's starring in his own action trailer, Chapin says he still enjoys being the voice of many.
"My voice is as strong as it's ever been," Chapin says. "I don't have any intention of hanging it up."
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.