“Once More Speak Clearly”

I’m just back from a few days in the Okanagan having spent far too much of my travel time trying to understand what muffled public address voices were pronouncing in airports and in flight.

As a world traveler I have encountered only one public address voice I could hear clearly and understand. That was (and I hope it lives on) the voice intoning train arrivals and departures in the British Railway Station at York in northern England.

The voice, usually female, is crisp and clear as it announces where a train is arriving from or departing to and the all-important number of the platform at which those events will take place. As for the balance of my worldly travels, all the public address announcers I have struggled to comprehend have had muffled voices or have spoken at staccato high speed via equipment long past its best before date.

The worst electronic voices are those commanding our attention just before and after takeoff. They are attempting to tell us how to fasten our seats belts, where emergency doors are located and, should we be flying over water, how to wear a floatation jacket with whistle attached.

We get the message only because a flight attendant is providing a visual demonstration up front and we have been able, with great concentration, to catch the odd word in the recorded script accompanying the mime performance.

Amazing really. Brilliant engineers and visionary architects design wondrous machines to move us through the air, and bright comfortable airports in which we can wait and then they subject us to muffled voices announcing flight numbers that are lost in the noisy clutter. In 2016 airport acoustics are not the priority they should be.

But maybe it isn’t the acoustics; maybe it’s just that the people making this noise have never been taught the basic lessons of public speaking – with or without a microphone – the first of which should be: “Once more speak clearly if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”

It’s not a new subject for me. At least once a year I lament the fact that local radio and television announcers speak so rapidly that words merge, sentences become non-existent and any sense of what they may have been striving to convey is lost in the rapid fire jumble.

There was a time when CBC newscasts were models of diction and set high standards for other broadcasters to follow. But no longer. Since “rap” became an acceptable form of communication it seems to be infiltrating news broadcasts with even the venerable BBC teetering on the edge of ever-faster word delivery.

I know that in broadcasting time is money. I also know that broadcast words heard but spoken too quickly to be understood are a waste of both time and money – and a disservice to listeners or viewers.

For now, I have one final complaint about broadcast diction: Why do TV sports announcers, the play-by-play people, have to shout every other sentence and reach a screaming crescendo when a goal is scored or a good tackle is made?

Do they think we can’t appreciate what we see, that we need to be told to be excited by athletic skills and triumphs or disasters? Do they not understand that the microphone in front of them is designed to carry their voice from wherever it is to wherever I’m listening at an adequate volume?

On their massacred diction and delivery of the English language I have no comment.



  1. I hd occasion, a few years ago, to compliment a female employee of an airline over her clear announcements over the PA system. IMO, most announcers do not know how far to hold a microphone from their mouth. I suspect this is from watching singers on TV appear to be trying to swallow the mike. There was a guide in the military many years ago for voice procedure: RSVP = Rhythm, Speed, Volume and Pitch. We were also taught to hold the mike a distance from the mouth, measured by putting one’s thumb to the lips and the mike at the end of one’s extended little finger of the same hand.
    I share your concerns over the other faults you listed.

  2. A fitting description and appraisal ! I am 89 and have worn hearing aids (??) for at least 12 years. And I have not done much travelling recently, but gave up long before that in trying to decode what airport announcers were saying. I finally accepted the mea culpa was the problem, since most people around me seemed to have no trouble. But I always thought some were too proud to admit it!. During WW11 here in BC we used to listen to a BBC radio announcer giving the news ( the name Earl Kelly comes to mind). Perfect diction. Not likely he would have taken the prize for words per minute, but he was easy to listen to. Let`s hope your thoughts don`t fall on barren ground. Al Pelter. i rom: Jim Hume: Sent: Saturday, September 3, 2016 7:19 PM To: apelter@shaw.ca Subject: [New post] “Once More Speak Clearly”

    theoldislander posted: “I’m just back from a few days in the Okanagan having spent far too much of my travel time trying to understand what muffled public address voices were pronouncing in airports and in flight. As a world traveler I have encountered only one public address v”

  3. Although I am younger than you Jim I haven’t been able to understand airport announcements for at least the past 25 years. I now wear hearing aids but it’s not much better. And over the telephone or in person I cannot comprehend anyone under 30, especially females.

    My hearing specialist confirms that young people speak differently now so it’s not entirely my fault. I assume they do understand each other (these young people) and when we go they’ll have their discourse exclusively to themselves.

    1. Wilf Popoff…that is funny, lol. When on BCFerries, just after departure there are the general information announcements, to me it sounds like the woman is from North East USA, wears brown tweed trousers, white shirt and a brown multi toned V-neck pullover, something like Katherine Hepburn might have worn.

  4. You have made my day. I thought that because I wear hearing aids it was my problem but I found that when I ask others what was said they they never understood it either. Thanks for pointing out the problem. .

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