WABE’s Jim Burress has lost his voice and isn’t sure if he’ll ever get it back

Originally posted Monday, March 4, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

WABE-FM afternoon host Jim Burress, 39, can’t talk and he isn’t sure if he ever will again.

He began having spinal issues many years ago because his spinal discs started collapsing. The last time it happened was around Christmas and damaged nerves in his left arm and hand.

Burress, who took over the afternoon gig last September, had a similar issue two years ago with his right arm. Invasive surgery through his neck resolved the issue but created scar tissue. (Untreated, he said he would lose function in his arms and hands.)

He had comparable surgery again five weeks ago and this time, it damaged the nerves in his right vocal flap, which is now paralyzed. “I’m able to make sounds like a labored whisper,” he texted, “but nothing loud and nothing resembling a true voice.”

He said temporary vocal loss isn’t unusual and typically resolves itself in a few days. “Unless it doesn’t,” he added. “And that’s where I am now.”

Burress isn’t quite in panic mode yet but he really isn’t sure if or when his voice will permanently recover.

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He visited Emory Voice Center Friday and came out encouraged. “Based on the scope, the doctor believes the nerve is intact,” he wrote. “That means recovery is possible. It’s a waiting game now and could be for a year.” 

This Wednesday, Burress said he will have a procedure to inject collagen into his non-functioning vocal cord. That fattens it up, he said, so it touches the functioning cord, allowing sound to emanate. “It’s a temporary Band-Aid and will last only a few months,” he said. “The idea is to restore some functionality while we wait things out” to see if his nerve will wake up and function again. 

He also has no way to know how good his voice will sound come Wednesday. “It’s better than what I’m dealing with now,” he said. 

While he’s off the air, he is producing the morning show for Lisa Rayam and editing and planning behind the scenes. Denis O’Hayer, who retired as morning host last year, has been covering for Burress the past month. Sascha Cordner, Rayam’s morning producer, is temporarily taking over Burress’ afternoon on-air job starting today, said Christine Dempsey, who runs radio for Public Broadcasting Atlanta. 

Burress said he expects another disc collapse in the future and may have to face more invasive surgery that is more complicated and intense than his most recent one but will avoid his vocal cords. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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