O'Brien Speaks, People Listen
When Greg O’Brien speaks, people listen. Indeed, his voice is heard all around the world because, despite living in a secluded home in New Hartford, O’Brien’s voice is heard internationally in promotional narratives, commercials, on documentaries and as an ESPN announcer.
O’Brien, who says much of his work comes to him through word of mouth, “has bounced around the country without ever having to leave the house because someone hears something I have done.”
His work might entail doing commercials for clients as far away as Russia, the Middle East, the Netherlands or Australia. “I’ve done a lot of work for concerts. I did one in Brussels and a guy in Sidney, Australia, heard it and reached out to the man I worked for and said, ‘Who is that guy?’ You never know what may be coming down the pike.”
He reports that he loves working for Russians. “I’ve worked a lot in Russia—Moscow and Belarus—I think the world of these folks because they are the quickest to pay.”
All the work is done in English and he says he strives for perfection no matter what the job. But medical narrations get particular attention. “When I get a script, I immediately reach out to doctors or a nurse. I need to understand what I am talking about and make sure I have the correct pronunciation. If I mispronounce one word, listeners will tune out because they feel you don’t know what you are talking about.”
O’Brien knew early what he wanted to do in life. He grew up in Hartford, son of a mother who had been a professional singer with the Tommy Dorsey Band and a father who rose through the ranks of be a State Police major.
“When Dorsey went on tour across the country and to Europe, my grandfather put the kabosh on that,” he reported. Off the road, his mother followed a more traditional path. “My mother always said she would never marry an Irishman or a cop—but my father was both,” he said wryly.
It was a musical family, though, and the young O’Brien early developed a desire to perform. “All my aunts were Sweet Adelines (the female equivalent of Barbershop Quartets) and my uncles sang with the Bill Savitt Singers. Bill Savitt had Savitt’s Jewelers and every Christmas time he would buy up advertising time and you would see them singing on WTIC in their matching Christmas sweaters. I grew up hearing a lot of five-part harmony.”
He also grew up listening to the radio. “I knew from an early age that I loved radio, listening to all those wonderful personalities. I loved music so much, I thought, ‘If someone will pay me to talk on the radio and play songs, sign me up.’”
He attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and spent nearly 20 years on the radio. “Back in the day, we were still cueing 45’s and albums. I can remember an album where the song would skip on track three or four. So, you had to make sure you taped a nickel on the arm. If you forgot, all you could do was to fade it out. We went from cuing albums to being able to interact with studios anywhere in the world in 40 years—that’s incredible.”
“But I was also interested in being a voice actor because I am a storyteller,” he continued. “To be able to tell someone’s story is a wonderful thing to do. Radio has been called the theater of the mind and you can create images that are crystal clear. Anyone can read a piece of paper—but it’s not so much what you say, it’s how you say it.”
How he performs has earned him ADDY, Telly and Clio awards for voice acting.
In 1996, he again expanded his professional horizons, signing a contract with ESPN as an announcer for a wide variety of voice promos and imaging. He has filled any gaps in his busy career by narrating documentaries, including two animated characters in No Safe Spaces, about the erosion of First Amendment rights, now available on Amazon.
Today, he largely works from his home studio/office. “When I moved here 15 years ago, I never knew I would be so proficient at social distancing,” he quipped. “Not much has changed for me this year.”
Technology has made it possible. “When I did No Safe Spaces, I did some singing,” he reported. “The music was orchestrated in Los Angeles and they sent it to me. Then I recorded my singing, isolated it and sent them my track.”
As busy as he is, O’Brien finds time to donate his talents as a voice actor and singer to charitable organization such as the March of Dimes, Disabled American Veterans and the like. “It’s nice to make money but I also believe if I can reach out and touch someone, I need to do that. I’ve been involved in many military events. I sang when we lost our first Connecticut resident in Desert Storm and I sang at Shanksville PA where the plane went down on 9/11. It was an honor to go there to speak and sing. I have been asked to sing the National Anthem at Memorial Day celebrations, funerals and troop deployments.”
Finally, he has become a Justice of the Peace and ordained minister so he can marry couples who seek him out. “I write up a ceremony for each individual bride and groom. I know I have done my job when I see tears running down faces,” he said. “I am always honored to be part of their magical day.”