As I sat in my doctor’s office last Friday morning outside of the nation’s capital, President Donald Trump was holding forth on the South Lawn of the White House. Russia should be back in the G-7. He might issue more pardons. He wasn’t backing off on his fight over trade barriers. It was yet another time over the last two years that while the President was making major news, I was visiting yet another medical professional in the pursuit of answers – what happened to my voice, and will it ever come back?
The answer is – I don’t know. And my many doctors don’t know, either.
My voice is in there. From time to time, words fall out of my mouth that sound normal. But for the most part, I can’t speak more than one or two words at a time before it goes haywire.
And that’s a problem for someone who has been doing news on the radio since 1983.
The medical diagnosis is tongue protrusion dystonia – which basically means my tongue isn’t working correctly, as it pops out of my mouth when I talk, causing problems for my speech.
I can talk a little with a pen in my mouth, getting out words and phrases that are more slurred than anything else.
And the thing that I struggle to explain to people is something more basic – this isn’t just about being on the radio. I can’t really have an extended conversation with my kids, my wife, my father, my sister, my friends and family. I can’t say much to the guys I play golf with, my neighbors, or anyone.
“I heard you string together about four or five words,” my wife told me after my youngest son’s baseball game on Friday evening, as I’ve continued to coach his team, with help from other parents, even as my voice has all but disappeared over the last two years.
“You got a couple words out here and there,” my father said last Thursday, after we had watched our Washington Capitals finally win the Stanley Cup.
What’s it like? Just imagine going through the rest of your day without being able to say much more than ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
No ordering food at the drive through. I can’t call doctors to make an appointment. When I pick up something, I can’t say my phone number or my name. At the local pizza place, I write my name down on a piece of paper when I come in for carry out. I do the same thing when picking up a prescription, or getting gas for the grill.
And when the phone rings, I usually don’t answer it. Because I can’t talk.
When I returned my team’s baseball equipment bag last fall, I handed it over with my name written on a piece of paper, so it would be clear to all that it was mine.
The two women at the desk laughed at me.
“I guess he can’t remember his name,” one of them said, as they giggled.
But I haven’t given up.
A plea for help
For months, some of my co-workers had been helping me search for a company that might have a software program which could take my years of audio archives, and build what would basically be a Jamie Dupree ‘voice app,’ which might allow me to get back on the air.
For months, I had been doing my own detective work on a computer generated voice solution – but we had all run into a brick wall. Major software companies in the U.S. didn’t want to share what they had developed. Other companies around the world needed you to record hours of material in order for the program to work – but I could barely say my name.
By December of 2017, things were bleak on all fronts. There were no medical breakthroughs. My voice was still a mess. And there were questions about my job future.
Then, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) went to the floor of the House.
“Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about Jamie Dupree,” Ros-Lehtinen said, publicizing my voice troubles and the lack of answers.
She had no idea it was just a day after my birthday. She had no idea that she was delivering me a birthday present that I so badly needed. It got me attention, both inside and outside of my company.
That speech on the House floor spurred interest from other news organizations. Ben Strauss wrote an article in Politico which detailed my efforts to keep my job in radio – even without a voice.
A few days later, the Washington Post chipped in with their own version of the story.
Emails and social media messages poured in with all sorts of ideas on what was wrong, and where I should seek treatment.
Other news organizations asked questions as well, led by CNN’s medical unit. Producer Sandee LaMotte – who listened to me on WSB in Atlanta – helped me find a neurological expert at the Emory University Brain Health Center who had actually treated similar cases.
Dr. Hyder Jinnah didn’t promise miracles – and I didn’t expect them.
“Based on what I know so far, you appear to have an uncommon subtype of a rare disorder,” Dr. Jinnah told me when I went to visit him in March.
In other words, there was no magic wand.
In May, I went back to Emory for two shots of Botox to my tongue, with the hope that such a treatment would keep my tongue from popping out of my mouth, and allow me the chance to speak again.
That first Botox treatment hasn’t really worked. I will be going back to Emory in August for another pair of shots to my tongue, this time with a little more Botox.
The search for Jamie Dupree, Version 2.0
In the meantime, my plight had attracted the attention of people inside my company, Cox Media Group, and a new effort was underway at the Atlanta headquarters to see if we could find a high tech solution to get me back on the air.
What they found was a Scottish company named CereProc, which agreed to sift through years of my archived audio, and build a voice – which, when paired with a text-to-speech application – would sound like me, and hopefully get me back on the radio.
The big news today is that it looks like that is going to work, and allow me to “talk” on the radio again.
Here’s the announcement from Scott Slade, who hosts the morning news on WSB AM/FM in Atlanta.
Does the voice sound perfect? No. But it does sound like me.
When I type out some words – the text-to-speech program that I use spits them out in my new Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice.
And starting next week, the plan is for me to again feed stories to our Cox Media Group news-talk radio stations, and be back on the air in our hourly newscasts, reporting the news from Capitol Hill and Washington, D.C.
What does it sound like? Try this:
Yes, it will probably sound robotic to some of my listeners; but for the first time in two years, I will be back on the radio.
Jamie Dupree 2.0 is here – and I couldn’t be more excited about it!