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Friday, February 8, 2013
The voice

By Chris Jones
ESPN The Magazine

Chris Jones Illo
How do you replace a PA announcer as beloved as Carl Beane?

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 18 Music issue. Subscribe today!

THEY GATHERED ON Yawkey Way early on a frozen January morning, every version of a man you could imagine. They were tall and short, thin and fat, old and young. Some wore suits with ties; some wore Boston jackets and caps. All of them had answered an open call to become the new public-address announcer for the Red Sox, the new Voice of Fenway Park. These were the auditions to replace the beloved Carl Beane, who died last May and whose deep, deliberate narration had become so synonymous with this place that the Red Sox had put off finding a full-time substitute until now. How the hopefuls looked didn't matter. Only their voices did.

At last they were let inside, and a line formed at a table manned by John Carter, the director of Red Sox productions. He steeled himself for a long and sometimes literally monotonous day. All of the nearly 400 applicants, including invitees at an earlier, separate audition, were handed an identical script: 121 words that would dictate their fates and, in some small way, the game-day experiences of every fan for years to come. Think of Beane or Sherm Feller before him; think of Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium. "We have to get this right," Carter said. "This voice has to fit."

The script had been filled with subtle traps and opportunities. T.J. Connelly, the team's DJ and one of its sets of professional ears, said that the pauses, the syllabic weights and cadence, were as important as the voice itself. "You want something that resonates," he said, "not just in the ballpark but in you." The gargling, pacing candidates were taken in groups up to the control room, where the window had been opened despite the lung-seizing cold. Fenway Park sat before them, the field covered with a fresh layer of snow, an ice-blue sky stretched out over all those empty seats. One at a time they sat down at the microphone and a small black box with a big red button. "Whenever you're ready," they were told, and their breath began pouring out of them like clouds.

Down below, the morning's first voice rang through the crackling air. It sounded beautiful. It was rich and old-fashioned, with pronunciations that sounded vaguely English; it fell somewhere between imperial and almost arcane. "Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Fenway Park for today's game between the New York Yankees," the voice said, pausing for the chorus of imaginary boos, "and the Boston Red Sox."

Shockingly, that voice belonged to a 27-year-old named Brian Maurer, one of the managers of a souvenir shop across the street. For Maurer, PA announcing isn't some idle hobby, even if this particular gig will pay just $50 a game. It's a dream that left him sleepless the night before his audition. He has studied and lifted from legends, transforming his natural voice into something else entirely. In the way Beane echoed Feller -- Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... -- Maurer almost mimicked Beane, like an actor playing a part. "I think it's important to keep that tradition going, that familiarity," he said. He wanted grandparents and grandchildren to hear him and be carried wherever it was they needed to go.

Voice after voice called out after Maurer's, those same 121 words taken in nearly as many directions. There were voices that were so deep they were indistinct, like Charlie Brown's teacher. One man sounded, from a distance, like honking geese. There were thick Boston accents -- Wailcome ta Finway Pahk -- and accents that were untraceable. Three women tried out, including a local DJ named Sue Brady. "That was so awesome," she said afterward. "I could burst into tears." There were arena-style bellowers -- Jacooooooooby Elllllllllllsbury! -- and men who were so staid, so serious, they might have been conducting a funeral.

They were all recorded, and now the Red Sox will review the full range before taking their favorite few down to spring training, to see how they handle a larger audience and double switches. Out of them will come the winner, in time for Opening Day, a choice that will likely hinge on something as hard to describe as voices themselves. "I think we'll know it when we hear it," John Carter said while he listened late into the afternoon -- Good afternoon, everyone...Good afternoon, everyone...Good afternoon, everyone ... -- hoping for the one, the perfect one, that he not only heard but felt.

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