Years ago, AJ McKay was a youngster with a voice so squeaky and high-pitched he was often mistaken for his mother when he answered the phone.
But soon after he turned 14, the boy who thought he’d one day become a professional wrestler suddenly found he had a passion and a voice for radio.
“I owned every piece of gear in RadioShack ever,” joked McKay, whose voice is now a deep, rich tone that turns strangers’ heads. “I just started recording these little cassette tapes in my home and I would send them to (former deejays) Pete and Joe when they were on the air on DJX back in the ‘80s. One morning I woke up and I heard myself on the radio and they were playing my tapes. Unbeknownst to me, I thought I was a star, but they were making fun of me because I had this high-pitched voice.”
McKay had the last laugh, though, as now-retired radio personality Peter B of WDJX helped him find a radio gig at the ripe age of 15, working from 6 to 9 p.m. after school.
It was that start – and the eventual deepening of his voice – that led McKay to a successful career in the business. But recently, he decided to leave his position as production manager at Mainline Broadcasting to pursue his dream in voiceover acting.
“I just decided that after 22 years in radio it’s time for me to branch out and do my own thing and follow my dream,” McKay said. “I want to do network TV promo, I want to do film, I want to be able to do the big national TV campaigns.”
The idea to throw himself whole-heartedly into his dream came after a coincidental meeting with an important person in the voiceover industry: Randy Thomas, the female announcer for Entertainment Tonight and the Academy Awards.
“It was very random,” McKay said. “It was very surreal because I have two voice actors that I’ve always wanted to meet: Randy Thomas and Joe Cipriano (voice of The Simpsons’ TV promo). I literally was sitting in my office one day and the phone rang and I saw that it was my work line and I answered it. I was like hello? And she went, ‘AJ?’ I thought it was my friend Tara and I said, ‘Yes?’ She said, ‘Hi, it’s Randy Thomas.’ I was like a kid I couldn’t speak.”
Thomas asked McKay if he would be willing to do some audio editing, which McKay agreed to. He has been working with her since October of last year.
“That was a big part of the reason I decided to kind of take this leap of faith and follow my dream,” McKay said. “I’m going to be 38 this year in November so I’m not getting any younger, and I might as well do it while I can. I’m taking a huge leap of faith because I’ve got a great job here, I make really good money and I’m just kind of walking away from a guaranteed paycheck and guaranteed insurance to follow a dream, but you kind of have to do that sometimes to achieve your goal.”
Another person who inspired McKay to leave the security of his radio gig was Bob Bergen, the voice of Porky Pig, who was in town last October during Louisville’s International Festival of Film.
“Bob Bergen kind of put that bug in my ear,” McKay said. “When he was here in October, I went to his (voiceover) seminar. He said, ‘Do you want to be 85 years old and look back on your life and say could have, would have, should have?’ I was like, I just need to make something happen here.”
Aside from finding work in television and film, McKay also has the desire to become an award show host and will serve as the off-stage announcer for the Addy Awards in Mobile, Ala. this month. “I have aspirations to do the Tonys and the Grammy and the Emmys and the Golden Globes. That’s really interesting to me. I love the spontaneity of it.”
For now though, McKay is spending most of his time practicing and studying voiceover and audio editing, working from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Mainline Broadcasting office downtown and at his home studio until 1 or 2 a.m. each day.
“For me failure is not an option,” he said. “And, I have no desire to move away from home. Life’s short and if I can do what I love from where I’m from and still make a decent living and be passionate and still love what I do, then that’s a win win for me.”
For more information on McKay and his work, visit www.ajmckaycreative.com.
Contact writer Ashley Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.498.2051.