Announcers refine skills for a shot at fameIt used to be that young girls aspired to become actresses or singers in order to gain fame and fortune. The more bookish girls hoped to become lawyers, doctors or running for political office. But now, the combination of fame and success ― both in the celebrity and intellectual spheres― points in just one direction: becoming an “announcer.”
For many, becoming an announcer (a catch-all Korean term for anchorwoman, emcee, DJ, television reporter and other newscaster), epitomizes the ideal career for a woman: it involves beauty, intelligence, depth and influence. It is not just about having a pretty face, it is about having virtuous qualities, including family background, a self-possessed intellect and commanding presence.
“A good announcer requires human qualities such as passion, professionalism and a sense of social responsibility,” says Sung Yeon-mie, the chief executive officer of the Bomon Announcer Academy in Sinchon, western Seoul. “Their outward features are not as important as the qualities they display in their speech and actions. Their inward qualities are exposed in their speech and overall presence.”
At Bomon (short for “spring days will come”), twenty-something students, young women and a few men concentrate intensely during a lecture on how to speak while the camera is rolling. The instructor tells two girls to step forward and read news reports as a nine o’clock anchor would. The two take turns while the other 10 or so students observe them via a monitor.
The female students have neatly cut bobs or shoulder length hair (straight, no perms allowed), and they are all relatively lanky and tall. After the reading the news reports, the two students introduce themselves and explain why they want to be television announcers. Afterwards, the instructor evaluates his or her performance and tells each student how to improve.
With the strong influence of television, personalities have more impact than, say, unseen newspaper reporters.
Besides the major television stations such as KBS, MBC, SBS, there are hundreds of cable channels, internal company programs, radios and community television stations, and even the recently launched digital multimedia broadcasting programming that have created an expanding market for would-be announcers.
Kim Mi-jeong, 25, a student at Ewha Womans University says she wanted to become an announcer because “the age of printed media is over. The present day is the era of broadcasting, which has far more impact and influence in our society.”
Even though there are a plethora of small- to middle-sized media outlets, major television stations are usually the targets for fresh-faced hopefuls. Announcers can either be newscasters or emcees or moderate current affairs programs on television.
Jeong Woo-yeong, 26, a student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, always dreamed of becoming a television news anchor. One of the very few male students at the academy, (90 percent are female students), Mr. Jeong says, “I recently shed 10 kilograms in order to become more camera friendly,” he said touching his face. “The teachers told me that my face was buried in fat, so I lost weight.”
Choi Eun-ji, 23, also a student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, says she has always wanted to become an announcer because her mother was a former newscaster at MBC television in Jeonju.
Announcer academies began to sprout in the 1990s as KBS, MBC and SBS all began offering six-month courses on how to become one. Even universities like Ewha also ran special after school programs for media hopefuls. Bomon is one of the fastest growing privately operated announcer academies in Korea, with nearly 400 graduates who have been accepted by various television stations in the country over the past three years.
Bomon starts classes every month for their five-month “announcer preparation program,” which includes lessons in vocalization, pronunciation and camera testing. There are also separate two-month intensive courses ― “newscaster training program,” “emcee” and “reporter” training programs. Each class is composed of less than 20 students per teacher all of whom were formerly announcers.
“Becoming an announcer requires a great amount of training. The attitude, manner of speech and eye contact have enormous influence on the viewers,” said Nam Eun-young, a former announcer with SBS television and lecturer at Bomon.
Ms. Sung compares announcers to professional pianists.
“Announcers are not all born with talent,” says Ms. Sung, who was a former announcer for KBS television in the 1980s. “Some have to be trained and nurtured. What’s important is that one has passion. Like pianists, they need to combine theory and passion in order to become real professionals.”
But are there wannabes who are just not cut out to be announcers?
“There are those whose vocalization is off or local dialect is so strong that it can’t be rectified,” Ms. Sung answers. “In that case, we dissuade the student not to pursue the career. We don’t advise against becoming an announcer based merely on looks.”
Of course looks matter, says Ms. Sung, but “It is more about the degree of trust and affinity that the viewers can feel towards you. It’s the overall impression of the person that matters, not the good looks.”
They are not just reading news or scripts made on televisions. Announcers exert great influence in their manner of speech and accent, Ms. Sung says.
“The way that announcers pronounce certain news will differ in its impact according to how it is says,” she says. “That is why announcers have a great social responsibility to deliver the news as accurately as possible.”
These days, announcers are gaining celebrity status in the media. For instance, take Kang Soo-jung, the KBS announcer who became a celebrity in her own right after appearing in entertainment slots on television.
Yoo Jung-hyun, a former newscaster, became a mini-celebrity after hosting many entertainment shows on various television stations. If not celebrities, announcers certainly tend to marry well, as they embody both beauty and brains.
Hwang Hyun-jung of KBS married to the information technology entrepreneur Lee Jae-woong, Hwang Soo-kyung married a public prosecutor. The spokeswoman for the Uri Party, Park Young-sun, was an anchorwoman at KBS that made the leap to politics.
Why is it that leading Korean anchorwomen on television are relatively young compared to the typical middle-aged man?
CNN employs middle-aged newscasters such as Judy Woodruff, while Paula Zhan and seventy-something Barbara Walters have been the main face of prime time television for many years on American TV.
But most female announcers in Korea leave their jobs as they enter their forties, either to settle down and raise their families or take on less high-profile slots on television.
Ms. Sung agrees that female news anchors are relatively young compared to their male counterparts, and this tradition carries on because female announcers tend to leave their careers when they get married.
“These days, female announcers consider their profession to be a long-term career,” says Ms. Sung.
by Choi Jie-ho