Steve from “beep bank” remains one of South Africa’s most loved and well-known radio advertising characters. But did you know that he was voiced by a gay man? Kevin Britz reveals how he created Steve in the midst of personal turmoil and tragedy.
Six years ago life happened. I came out, got divorced from a seven-year marriage and moved to Thailand out of guilt and shame; not wanting to deal with the fact that my ex-wife and I just had a baby girl.
After three months in Thailand (feeling horribly sorry for myself), I returned back to South Africa, jobless and guilty. I had nowhere to live, I was 31-years-old and living with my parents. I had no answers as to what to do next and how I would be able to get through life.
Thankfully, I had studied Neuro Linguistic Programming three years earlier. NLP is the study of the language of the brain’s programming and how to use this kind of thinking. All I could do was apply myself to what I had learned and move towards something new, away from my (seemed-to-be) disaster.
My mother hated seeing me depressed and eventually told me, “Pull yourself towards yourself and just go and do something”. Having no job and applying for just about anything, I decided to read. I figured, if I could change my brain I could somehow get myself out of this mess.
For a period of four months, I woke up, ate, got dressed, checked emails for interviews and went to Exclusive Books. I read every kind of “self-help” or inspirational book. I knew that if I could reframe my life ever so slightly I could make changes.
A year went by and I managed to find some work as an MC at the nearby casino. It paid very little but, at least, I could buy food.
At this time, my mother had been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and died within four months. It was already difficult being divorced and a new dad, but now the one person who stood by me through thick and thin had died. I felt an emptiness that I had never experienced before.
Eventually, I heard about ‘voice over’ work. I became excited. I knew I had nothing to lose. I could do this. There was one challenge: the fee to get onto “Voice Bank”, where producers could listen to examples of my voice work, was R600.
I didn’t have R600. I called my brother, who said he’d help but I would have to pay him back. I agreed, although it took another three weeks for me to pluck up the courage to get my voice clips onto the Voice Bank.
When I got the first call to do a radio ad, I was over the moon. While I hadn’t done voice over work before, I had a plenty of stage and performance experience. Finally, it felt like something was working.
After my second voice over job, the producer phoned: “Hi Kevin, I’m calling to ask you if you would like to audition for FNB. They like your voice and would like to use you in their new ad.” I said yes, immediately. She gave me the date and time and I was there, early.
As I walked into the studio, realising that this was only the third radio ad that I’d ever done, I was met by a room of 15 people. Feeling completely overwhelmed, I assumed that there were more auditions planned and politely asked who else would be auditioning for the part. They said, “No one, we like your voice and you’ll be doing the voice of Steve”.
The brief was that Steve was a happy, friendly call centre agent who was always willing to help. All I knew to do was my best; I’d sound as happy as I could over the microphone, have a nice big smile, friendly face and some great posture – and so Steve was born.
It worked. Everything I had read and applied to my life was having an impact. After completing a few of the ads I was ready to tell South Africa. I was the guy on the radio. That was me! I did that! I made it happen!
Sadly, that couldn’t happen. I was asked to not disclose my identity because the anonymity worked well for the campaign. After three months of ongoing radio ads, the producer asked if I would be willing to work for a retainer fee, although I wouldn’t be allowed to do work for any other financial institution.
My question was, “What’s a retainer fee?” I went on to sign a contract with FNB as the voice of Steve for the next four years.
Steve, my secret alter ego, went on to change banking in South Africa. His FNB adverts were the most listened to radio spots in the country and the most played adverts on English radio. For a while, Steve was the most famous radio voice in South Africa, and people still remember who he is. By the time the campaign came to an end, I had years of experience in doing ‘voice’ and had grown a love for helping people.
Bringing these two elements together, I established Voice by Design. Today, the company teaches people in the corporate world how to use their voice, how to communicate and how their body language can influence what they are saying. Voice by Design recently broadened its horizons into communications, telecommunications, and retail voice training. Who knows where this will go…
Thank you “Steve from beep bank”. You literally changed my life.
Best known as the voice of Steve in FNB’s popular ads, Kevin has 30 years experience as a singer, stage performer, songwriter, MC, and radio presenter. He is a business owner, Life Coach and Master NLP Practitioner, and now trains others in voice and communications skills in various spheres of life. www.voicebydesign.co.za