Posted by Marcia Dick December 16, 2011 10:04 AM
Erika SmithTom Champion has a voice that inspires. A voice that draws people in, that makes you believe what he says, that gives you goose bumps.
Champion is known as the “Voice of Somerville,” and after a year away from the post, he returned to his job as the city’s Director of Communications on Nov. 1.
A 57-year-old former professional actor who has worked in state and local government for the past three decades, Champion is again experiencing the challenges and rewards of what he calls a 24/7 job – and a resurgence of his local notoriety.
“We’re excited to have the Voice of Somerville back,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. “He’s something of a cult figure around here.”
Champion has a “beautiful, mellifluous voice,” said Elizabeth Hunter, artistic director of Theatre@First, which has cast Champion in plays and also asked him to do announcements for a play festival.
Champion’s voice draws an audience, whether he’s portraying the Headless Horseman in a play or sitting in a small, bare office at a desk flooded with papers recording a phone call that will be sent out to all of Somerville.
“Hello, this is Tom Champion from the City of Somerville calling ...”
Champion served as Somerville’s Director of Communications from 2005 to early 2010 and became a Somerville celebrity in the winter of 2007, when Somerville instituted a program called ResiStat, designed to connect residents with the city. The ResiStat program included sending out voice alerts to residents in the case of an emergency, such as a fire, a storm, or a heavy snowfall. In the snowy winter of 2007-2008, Somerville residents suddenly received a lot of phone calls from Champion. He quickly became a local celebrity, and his robo-calls spawned a Facebook fan page, a haiku contest, and a techno remix of his recorded announcements in which his announcements are layered over an electronic beat suitable for a dance floor.
Champion left the position in December 2010, when he was offered a job at Bluewater Corp., an eco-friendly utility pipe repair company. The position offered a significant increase in income, and with Champion’s only daughter beginning college, he decided to take the job.
But Bluewater Corp. filed for bankruptcy in October 2010, and Champion was back in the job market last March.
After job searching for eight months, Champion received a call from the mayor: the current communications director, Michael Meehan, was leaving, and Curtatone wanted Champion to come back.
“This time, my role in communications for the city has become my identity,” Champion said, naming recent occasions he has been recognized as the "Voice of Somerville." A man shouted to him from across the street – “Hey, Voice! Welcome back!” A cashier recognized his voice from the robocalls. And Champion has seen plenty of buzz online.
Jeremy Radcliffe, a Somerville resident of 11 years who created the logo for Davis Square, celebrated Champion’s return by creating a new techno remix of Champion’s robocalls, titled “Tom Champion Is My Hero (2011 Remix).” Four years ago, Radcliffe created the original Tom Champion techno remix, which has since “been lost to the ravages of the Internet,” he said. When he heard that Champion was returning, he decided to create a new one. Radcliffe chose the title.
“Tom Champion is, in many ways, my hero, because he makes me that excited about a snowstorm,” Radcliffe said.
This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.