In mid-2016, WSB’s much respected and well-loved 30-year Washington Correspondent Jamie Dupree lost his voice after falling ill on a family vacation. His voice didn’t come back. It took a year of visits to specialists around the country to diagnose the problem—a rare neurological condition called “tongue protrusion dystonia”. No treatment has worked. While Jamie continued blogging, tweeting, and proving invaluable behind-the-scenes guidance, his absence from the air was obviously a major blow to our news coverage, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign.
A House floor mention of Jamie’s condition by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led to CNN, Politico, and The Washington Post picking up his story. And as it became clear that his voice wasn’t returning, our Cox Media Group tech gurus discovered a potentially-pioneering approach to getting Jamie back on the air. They sent years’ worth of his old radio reports to a software company in Scotland. Using hundreds of clips to isolate letters, syllables, and words, Jamie’s voice was essentially re-created electronically. Text-to-voice software then allows him to type his reports, run them through what we dubbed “Jamie Dupree 2.0”, then send them to us as audio.
The newsroom’s issue was how to handle Jamie’s return. We wanted to celebrate the moment without seeming exploitive, and the initial electronic voice was jarring enough that listeners would certainly realize it wasn’t real. We determined the answer was simply to cover it as a news story, blanketing it across all platforms and being as transparent as possible with our audience. Below are samples of the radio, web, and video coverage dating June 18, 2018.
News-Talk listeners are not known for being bashful with their opinions, and station management had some trepidation about the reaction to the simulated voice. But it was met with genuinely overwhelming affection and encouragement from the audience, and we feel the notably small number of questions or complaints was due partly to our use of every available platform to explain the story.
(And an update: gathering this material, we were startled to remember just how robotic the original electronic voice sounded. As you will hear in other contest entries, by the end of the year, with some tweaking, you’d never know it’s not Jamie speaking—and everybody at WSB continues to hope and pray that someday soon we’ll hear Jamie’s *real* voice on the air again).