NPR loses familiar voice that came out of a Hamden closet

New Haven (AP) - Anybody who has listened to National Public Radio for the past 31 years would immediately recognize that strong, carefully unwavering voice: "Support for NPR comes from Newman's Own Foundation" or "Support for NPR comes from Novo Nordisk..."

But recently that voice vanished, replaced by a younger-sounding female. Yes, she is pleasant to listen to - but what happened to our longtime friend on the airwaves?

Until I read about him in The New Yorker in a recent issue, I didn't know his name. Nor did I have any idea he was making all those recordings in a closet in his home in Hamden.

Meet Frank Tavares, who also is a professor teaching organizational communication at Southern Connecticut State University. That's what he calls his "day job."

As a devoted NPR listener, I had to see that closet. On a recent Wednesday morning, Tavares showed me around.

"This is where I do my recording," he said, opening a tiny closet lined with hangers of coats and shirts, shelves filled with sweaters and several stacked suitcases. At the end of the closet: a chair, a little table and a microphone.

"A closet is a nice place to do this work," Tavares told me. "The clothing and the carpeting absorbs the sound, so you don't get that hollow sound, like you're recording in a bathroom."

He picked up a small sign with the message: "On air."

"This is what I put in my upstairs window when I'm recording," he said. "When my neighbor sees it, he refrains from mowing his lawn."

Tavares' understanding neighbor, Jim Fracasse, learned to understand Tavares' set schedule: 8 a.m. to about noon, every other Saturday. That's when Tavares went into his closet and recorded hundreds of funding credits that were heard all over the world.

"I'll do around 600 of them every other week," Tavares said.

He was speaking in the present tense. But in the middle of his following sentence, he caught himself and switched to the past: "I get all the scripts - or, I got all the scripts - in spreadsheets via email."

Tavares said it was last April 20 when he had "the conversation" that so many Americans have had with their bosses in recent times. A vice president at NPR told him the corporation had decided they needed to "make the workflow more efficient."

NPR officials wanted to combine Tavares' part-time job with that of another employee, so one person would do the voice work as well as handling the recording and editing.

"I was told, 'This has nothing to do with the quality of your work,"' Tavares recalled, "and "You're invited to apply for it but you must live in D.C."'

Because Tavares has established a nice life in Connecticut and has that full-time day job at SCSU and doesn't want to uproot his wife and their two sons, he never considered applying.

The new voice at NPR is Sabrina Farhi, who is 33 and until recently lived in Brooklyn. She moved to Washington to take that job.

Although Tavares, 68, is more than twice her age, he rejected any notion he is a victim of age discrimination. He added, "Change is not always a bad thing."

Tavares will be looking for other announcing gigs but, meanwhile, he will continue to use that closet for another regular endeavor of that space: writing fiction.

His short stories have appeared in assorted literary journals. He recently had published a collection of them, "The Man Who Built Boxes." He also is working on a novel.

When he was a kid, Tavares never thought about going into radio work. But as he was preparing to graduate from high school, he passed his yearbook around the classroom and one of his female classmates wrote: "With a voice like yours, you should be in radio."

He was reminded of those words when he arrived at Wheaton College in Illinois in 1962 and saw a sign-up table for the college radio station. That work led to jobs with commercial stations after he graduated. In 1972, he landed his first job with public radio, in Austin, Texas. And in 1978, he was hired to work at NPR in Washington, helping direct audience programming.

"In 1982, we started doing funding credits. Bob Edwards (then the NPR morning host) came over and told the producer, 'I can't read this.' They realized they needed a firewall between the content and the underwriting. So the producer pulled me in from the hall, and I started reading."

Tavares said he got "burned out" from the 80-hour work weeks and in 1989, accepted an offer to teach at SCSU. But he continued to do the NPR voice work.

Tavares admitted that the first time he heard Farhi's voice instead of his on the radio, "It absolutely caught me off-guard. It'll take me a little while to get used to it."

"Yes, I'll miss hearing my voice on the radio, and I'll miss being part of the daily fabric of public radio. But it'll be fine. I'm an NPR listener, and I'll get used to it."

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