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Joe Franklin had mentioned that your voice has a certain sparkliness to it, and Terry Gross has also talked about her own voice changing over the years as she’s evolved as an interviewer. How do you feel that your voice has changed over the years of being on radio, and how long did it take you to find your natural radio voice — what was that process like?

That’s a really good question. It took me a long time before I performed comfortably on the radio. At the time that I started This American Life I was 36 or 37 and I’d been doing radio since I was a teenager, really. It took me until I was probably 28 or 29 before I sounded okay on the radio, before I was presentable. Then it took another four or five years before I sounded like myself really, and I did all kinds of things to make that happen. I did not sit idly. One is just trying, on the stories that I was filing for the daily news shows on public radio, to sound like myself and not like some news robot, news reader person. 

Another thing was that for five years before I did American Life I did a local show with a friend in Chicago that was on late-night Fridays. One of the reasons I did it was because I wanted to train myself to perform so I would sound like myself, like so I sounded live on the radio and un-train myself from the way that I was used to sounding as an NPR reporter where I sounded like the other NPR reporters. That was a big project. That was a goal of mine to try to sound okay on the radio. By the time I started the radio show, I had been at that for years. Once I started the radio show I do think that my performance on the air evolved and I think mainly I would go through periods of sending more performy or more like I was just talking. I prefer it to sound like I’m just talking, but I think I just go in and out of a groove with that in a way that I think actually listeners wouldn’t notice or care but that I notice and care about.

It is such a distinct thing… After listening to so many episodes you can almost hear where the pauses are going to be or where you come in strong. Does it differ too much from day-to-day life, like a conversation with friends, and when you get on the air do you feel like you’re performing? What do you make of “sincerity” amidst all of that?

Well, I am performing. It would be appropriate to think I’m performing because I am performing. I’m standing in front of a million and a half people or something, or more than that, and that is the classic performing situation. The goal in radio — people sound best on the radio if they talk just the way they really talk, like the greatest radio performers are like that. When it’s working, I do sound like I sound in real life. It’s not so different from when I really talk.

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