When did you first experience a passion for aviation?
I have been an aviation fan since I was a kid when my dad got me interested. He soloed in a Piper Cub after WWII, but never got his private pilot's license. He took me to the Air Force museum a long, long time ago when it was nothing compared to what it is now. So my passion kind of grew from there, and from watching the Sky King television show back in the '50s. It all stayed with me.
Tell me about the 'power of the voice' as relates to announcing aviation.
The power of the voice is what engages people and it's especially good when it is balanced with the visual. I've learned when to shut up at times and just let the airplanes make the music. In the case of air shows, people often don't know what it is that they are seeing. If I can bring them closer to what they are seeing, then it becomes way more than 'radio with pictures.' Audio is absolutely fundamental. If you are watching a television show and if the sound goes away, you can lose the story pretty quickly; but if the picture goes away and you still have the sound, you can stay involved with the story.
How did you first come to use Sennheiser headsets in the booth?
I used to wear both an over the ear headphone and ear bud from a competitor. If the air boss wanted to talk to me, I had to pull the bud out of an ear, take the whole ear cup off, then jam it all back in. When I had the opportunity to try a Sennheiser headset, an HMD 26, it was so easy to take on and take off. Perhaps more importantly, it was comfortable, not heavy and sounded infinitely better than the competitor's. Since then I have not gone back. I no longer have to worry about all that stuff on my ears and all these cords coming down - now I've got my dark glasses and my Sennheiser headset with just one wire. I have it set up so I can communicate directly with everyone I need to, I can run my own music and communicate through the PA system and it's all seamless. I am now in my second full season using the Sennheiser HMD 26s, which are part of Sennheiser's HME/C 26 family of broadcast and pilot's headsets. I couldn't be happier that I made the change.
How important is intelligibility and clarity for you?
With the HMD 26, I can always hear myself very clearly. If I cannot hear myself, I will lose my voice — this is the biggest danger for me. So having good headphones so I can hear myself well not only makes for a better experience for the audience but also really protects my chops. As far production is concerned, the timing is crucial. So I can't afford to miss a cue and the audio — and in this sense, the audio is everything. The music starts and its, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the aerial entertainment continues at…." The microphone on the HMD 26 sounds awesome; I don't have to EQ at all compared to the mics I used to use.
How about comfort? Where does this come into play?
The headphones have to be comfortable otherwise I will get fatigued and will be miserable by the end of the day. I'm wearing this thing sometimes 6 hours a day — as long or longer than any other sportscaster ever does. Ever since I switched to Sennheiser the comfort hasn't been an issue and I never have to think about it.
What keeps you going, having done aviation announcing for so long?
I still get goose bumps doing this job and even though I have been doing this a long time, I am so far from jaded. I am a little kid who has found a way to make money doing what he loves to do. I don't get nervous anymore but I try to get into the zone as quickly as possible.
Rob Reider, pictured with his Sennheiser HMD 26 aviation headset.