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 heâ€™d one day become a professional wrestler suddenly found he had a passion and a voice for radio.
â€œI owned every piece of gear in RadioShack ever,â€ joked McKay, whose voice is now a deep, rich tone that turns strangersâ€™ heads. â€œI 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 â€˜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.â€
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 â€“ and the eventual deepening of his voice â€“ 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.
â€œI just decided that after 22 years in radio itâ€™s time for me to branch out and do my own thing and follow my dream,â€ McKay said. â€œI want to do network TV promo, I want to do film, I want to be able to do the big national TV campaigns.â€
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.
â€œIt was very random,â€ McKay said. â€œIt was very surreal because I have two voice actors that Iâ€™ve always wanted to meet: Randy Thomas and Joe Cipriano (voice of The Simpsonsâ€™ 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, â€˜AJ?â€™ I thought it was my friend Tara and I said, â€˜Yes?â€™ She said, â€˜Hi, itâ€™s Randy Thomas.â€™ I was like a kid I couldnâ€™t speak.â€
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.
â€œThat was a big part of the reason I decided to kind of take this leap of faith and follow my dream,â€ McKay said. â€œIâ€™m going to be 38 this year in November so Iâ€™m not getting any younger, and I might as well do it while I can. Iâ€™m taking a huge leap of faith because Iâ€™ve got a great job here, I make really good money and Iâ€™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.â€
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 Louisvilleâ€™s International Festival of Film.
â€œBob Bergen kind of put that bug in my ear,â€ McKay said. â€œWhen he was here in October, I went to his (voiceover) seminar. He said, â€˜Do you want to be 85 years old and look back on your life and say could have, would have, should have?â€™ I was like, I just need to make something happen here.â€
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. â€œI have aspirations to do the Tonys and the Grammy and the Emmys and the Golden Globes. Thatâ€™s really interesting to me. I love the spontaneity of it.â€
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.
â€œFor me failure is not an option,â€ he said. â€œAnd, I have no desire to move away from home. Lifeâ€™s short and if I can do what I love from where Iâ€™m from and still make a decent living and be passionate and still love what I do, then thatâ€™s a win win for me.â€
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.