You probably wouldn’t recognize Kristi Burns if you passed her on the street, but chances are you’ve heard her voice.
That warm voice urging you to take advantage of Rosauers’ holiday wine and cheese sale? That’s her.
The on-hold message you get at Numerica Credit Union or Red Lion hotels? Also Burns.
Or perhaps instead of reading the New York Times you listen to it on Audible? Again that would be Burns.
The native Cape Codder does it all from a soundproof booth in her home studio on Spokane’s South Hill.
“It’s the best job!” she said.
Born in Chatham, Massachusetts, Burns, 49, spent six years in Saudi Arabia with her parents and three younger sisters when her father’s work took them overseas.
That comes in handy when she’s recording news from around the world for the Washington Post or New York Times.
“My Arabic isn’t bad,” Burns said, smiling.
Though her voice is heard around the world, she once imagined her face might be more widely known.
“I thought I’d be the next Barbara Walters,” she said.
After graduating from Marquette University with a degree in communications and broadcast journalism, she moved to Hollywood, and got a job as a production assistant at Paramount, working on the short-lived television show “American Dreamer.”
“I wanted to be in television because you’re always doing something different,” Burns said. “I could not imagine going to a job in an office every day and sitting at a desk.”
She met her husband, Michael Burns, when they both worked on “America’s Funniest People,” a show similar to “America’s Funniest Videos.” They married in 1996.
Within three months of their marriage she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Fortunately, she beat the cancer.
Unfortunately, MS presented her husband with ongoing health issues. Those challenges brought them to Spokane in 2007.
“Spokane has one of the highest rates of MS in the country,” said Burns. “We knew we would have access to excellent care and fabulous doctors.”
However, Spokane doesn’t offer a lot of television work. That was OK with Burns because by this time her family was growing. The Burnses are the parents of Brendan, 17, twins Izabella and Savannah, 13, and Brady, 10.
Burns had done some voice-over work in LA and decided to pursue it full time after their move.
“Before the Internet, you really needed to have an agent or live in LA or New York,” she said. “But now there’s a whole new genre of non-union voice-over work.”
Her husband’s support proved invaluable.
“He bought me my first microphone,” said Burns. “He’s the one who believed in me and said ‘This is something you can totally do!’ ”
He’s also the one who found the 1-ton sound-proof booth in Seattle and arranged to have it moved to Spokane.
Prior to its arrival she used to record in an upstairs closet – not the best situation with four kids in the house.
The booth is complete with a neon sign that lets her family know when she’s recording.
Commercials, news reading and on-hold messages are fun, but corporate work is Burns’ bread and butter. She narrates training videos and e-learning seminars. No funny voices are involved.
“I’m not an animation voice-over talent,” she said. “I don’t do characters, but I am a mimic and can fake accents.”
Reading the New York Times might be straight narration, but when she reads David Brooks’ columns, she admits to allowing a bit of an edge in her voice.
Like any entertainment industry position, Burns faces a round of auditions for most jobs.
She’ll get a description of the target audience and the type of voice needed, and then tape a demo. For example, a company might request a smart, sophisticated, confident and somewhat understated tone.
Laughing, she listed her voice types.
“I can do sexy mom, cool mom, concerned friend,” Burns said. “The millennial read is very hot right now. You’re excited, but you want to care less.”
She’s also narrating the “Rebecca Mayfield mysteries,” a series of books by Idaho author Joanne Pence.
But perhaps her biggest role is the voice of time for Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.”
“I’m the one who says ‘30 minutes have elapsed – five minutes have elapsed,’ ” Burns intoned. “I got to meet Alton Brown when he came to Spokane. He said, ‘I never thought you’d be a blonde!’ ”
It stands to reason her biggest fear is losing her voice. She has a supply of Throat Coat at the ready, and during the winter, she wears gloves when volunteering in her kids’ classrooms.
From Cape Cod, to Saudi Arabia, to Hollywood and finally Spokane, Burns is now at home doing what she loves.
“Everybody has a service or story they need someone to know about,” she said. “I get to help tell the story. I’m constantly doing something different even though I’m in the house.”
To listen to clips of Burns work visit http://www.kristiburns.com/
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