The MTA produced the video atop this post back in February when the authority unveiled the cheaper (and less precise) countdown clock for the B Division. Featured at numerous times is a woman’s voice. She speaks clearly and precisely with diction that’s very easy to hear. Without any hint of an accent, her announcements drone on authoritatively.
Today, The Times posted a profile of Carolyn Hopkins, the Maine resident who has been recording subway PA announcements for 15 years. The relevant excerpt:
Mrs. Hopkins works from a windowless room in her house with sound-absorbing material on the wall — a tapestry, hung like a painting but covering foam. The microphone and recording equipment came from Innovative Electronic Designs of Louisville, which developed the system that plays her voice in the subway.
What you hear, standing on the platform, are a series of short takes, each no more than a few words, strung together by the computer. “Ladies and gentlemen” — one take. “There is Brooklyn-bound” — one take. “Local train” — one take. “Two” — one take. “Stations away” — one take. The longest take is 16 words: “Please stand away from the platform edge, especially when trains are entering and leaving the station.”
You can hear her saying much the same thing in Chicago, Washington, even Paris (where she is the voice that speaks what little English is spoken in the Metro). But subway riders are not the only passengers she talks to. She has recorded announcements for the Staten Island ferry and most of the major airports in this country, including La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty.
“Plus Incheon in Korea; Charles de Gaulle in Paris; Beirut, Lebanon; and I’m forgetting some in China,” she said. “Once we walked into the John Wayne-Orange County Airport in California. I had completely forgotten that I’d done the announcements there, and it hit me like, ‘Oh, O.K.’ I was telling myself to watch unattended bags. That’s always a good one.”
Interestingly, Hopkins says she rarely visits New York and hasn’t taken the subway since 1957 when she was a little girl. When I hear her voice fill the station, I know that a train is on the way, but I also miss any hint of personality in her voice. Instead of any hint of New York City, her announcements sound instead as though I’m in an airport in Anyplace, USA.