James Fallows, in the Atlantic, identifies a broadcasting convention, the use of a slightly Anglicized version of grammatically correct Standard Mid-Western English as the formal voice of news reader, announcer, or celebrity on the radio, which he contends has recently disappeared.
The narrator of [this] film [“Wings Over the Golden Gate” (1930s)](spoke in a way instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen footage of FDR-era newsreels, or for that matter listened to recordings of FDR himself. It was a style of phony-British â€œAnnouncer Speakâ€ that dominated formal American discourse from the 1920s to maybe the 1950sâ€”and now has entirely disappeared.
I mention this because today I was listening to a rebroadcast of a great 2012 Fresh Air interview with the musician and writer Michael Feinstein, which included a rare, brief interview that George Gershwin had done on Rudy Valleeâ€™s hyper-popular radio show in 1933. The amazing thing was that even George Gershwin sounded this way!
The revolutionary genius of modern American music, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, the child of Brooklyn who moved to Hollywood, the epitome of whatever seemed jazzy about America of the Depression yearsâ€”even he had that Voice of Time diction.
Here is what I asked four years ago, and would still like to know: Who was the last American to speak this way? And when and why did this accent disappear? We often think of language change as evolving over long historic periods. But this is something that has happened with comparative speed. By the time I became conscious of TV, radio, or movie voices in the late 1950s, the formal Announcer version of American English still existed. Now, no one would use it except as a joke.
When? How? Why?
I think the slightly more stressed consonants (British style) did tend to disappear, along with the last remnants of the British Empire, sometime in the course of the 1950s, but news broadcasters like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley still, in my opinion, delivered the news in much the same carefully-articulated and artificially-elevated tones as 1930s announcers.
Perhaps, we can attribute a slightly more recent preference for a less formal and pretentious, a more natural kind of broadcasting diction to Culture Wars conflicts, and the wide American recognition that Voice-of-God news readers (like Cronkite) frequently served up atrociously biased reporting and outright misinformation (Cf. Cronkite’s misreporting on the supposed Viet Cong “victory” in the 1968 Tet Offensive) and that (despite those elevated accents) broadcasting talking heads had commonly in reality roughly the same I.Q. as your average box turtle.
The astonishingly dim but equally pretentious anchorman rapidly became an American comedy staple. After all that, it should not be surprising that the preferred broadcasting style has become more natural and less affected.