The Voice of NPR, Frank Tavares, Guest DJs on The Morning Mix

Frank Tavares is the most heard voice on NPR. You hear him a dozen times a day reading the NPR funding credits. So, you definitely know his voice, but what you might not know about Frank Tavares is that he wrote a book of short stories! The Man Who Built Boxes, a collection of short stories, came out this summer. Frank was tasked with the job of creating a set of songs that tell stories, in celebration of his book.

“A couple songs came immediately to mind, actually one artist came to mind, Harry Chapin.” The first track that Frank picked was Chapin’s "Taxi". “A number of the songs he did really had that story feel to them, even though they’re mostly bummers.” The story of "Taxi" is one of reflection. “Here’s a fellow who’s a cab driver. He picks up a fare. They recognize each other. He realizes it's someone from his past life, she recognizes him, and it raises all of these things about what might have happened and where they are now, and how you move forward,” Frank said.

The second song that Tavares picked was Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. This one tells a story of one evening where a boy and a girl are on a date. “But one of the things that always kind of tickled me about that song is there’s a cameo appearance by another very famous voice, a sports caster named Phil Rizzuto…I remember thinking ‘Whoa, someday I’d like to do a cameo like that in a song!’”

In fact, the L.A. band, Capital Cities invited Frank to use his “NPR voice” in a song called "Farrah Fawcett Hair", which was an ode to cool things. “The idea behind it, when they approached me last spring, they said they wanted to do this song that talked about the coolest things they could think of. So the refrain is about “cool stuff”, and in the NPR voice I just listed what they suggested as some of the coolest things around.” The song cusses quite a bit, so Cindy couldn’t play the whole song, but you can listen to it here.

The last song of Frank’s set is a Beatles tune. “I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that song.” "Eleanor Rigby" was Frank’s pick, which is another song, like "Taxi", that isn’t the most cheerful of songs, or “a bummer”, as Frank says. “There's something else about these songs, is that for many of us, and this is how I feel, I listen to the song and listen to the heaviness that comes with it, and then at the end of it, I shrug it off, take a deep breath, and move forward.” Cindy agreed, saying, “Yeah, you can’t let that swallow you for the rest of the day.”

Frank is really the most heard voice in the history of public radio, which is a scary thought, Tavares says. “It really set me back at first, but then I thought about it and then I said, ‘Well that’s pretty cool!’”

Frank has been writing professionally his whole life, but only within the last 15 years did he begin to write fiction, “Because it’s just so much fun to write!”  Upon hearing several of his friends suggest that he collect his short stories into one place, he decided that it was a good idea. “I thought, quite honestly, that this should be quite easy. All of them have been written, most of them have been published, how hard could it be? And so when I first started talking with the publisher, I was amazed at how many decisions had to be made from day one.” It did have a side benefit, Tavares said, and that was that he could take what he learned about the publishing process and bring it back into the classroom, where he teaches business communication.

Cindy asked Frank where he got his inspiration for writing. “It’s strange where these little seeds come from, and most writers that you talk to, and that Ive talked to, have had the same experiences. Some of them, I wouldn’t call them mystical. The short answer is sometimes I just don’t know, but other times I do.” Some inspiration came from Tavares’ trip to Italy, where he saw old decrepit buildings and villages. Another piece of inspiration came from a near traffic accident that Tavares witnessed. No one was hurt, but he was a bit shaken. “And then other things, you get ideas from segments of conversation that you hear, and yeah aspects of yourself appear in some of the characters, but all the characters are composites of different people and strangers.” One of the most difficult things for Frank was naming his characters, and he found that he had to rename some of the characters when it came time to publish the collection.

Cindy wondered if Frank was ever recognized in public, and he had an interesting story to share. “Every once in a while, somebody will look at me, we’ll be talking, or I’ll be talking and they’re close by. Sometimes they start with ‘you look familiar”, which is just because the audio cue crosses synapses with the visuals, or they’ll say, ‘you sound familiar.’ Well the first thing I ask is, ‘Well are you an NPR listener?’ And depending on how they answer I may give up the secret!’ laughed Frank. ‘If they say they listen to NPR all the time, so I’ll look around to see who’s standing, because sometimes this can be embarrassing, and then I’ll just lean towards them and say, ‘support for NPR comes from this, and other…’ Cindy, after all these years, its amazing to see how they react to that.”

Frank is hoping to have a new novel out next year. His collection of short stories is called The Man Who Built Boxes.

Frank Tavares DJ Set:

Harry Chapin – Taxi

Meatloaf – Paradise By The Dashboard Light

Capital Cities – Ferah Fawcett Hair

The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby