Home View from Underground The subway announcements that come from Maine

The subway announcements that come from Maine

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Alargule November 14, 2010 - 2:51 pm

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

You want a voice with personality? Get Fran Drescher.

petey November 15, 2010 - 8:58 am

NO!!!!!!! DON’T GIVE HIM ANY IDEAS!!!!!!!!!!

pea-jay November 14, 2010 - 4:32 pm

That would be a novel MTA campaign to record all the messages with famous New York celebraties.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2010 - 12:19 pm

Like they did with the taxis?

Chicken Underwear November 14, 2010 - 4:45 pm

I can’t figure out what the point of the announcements is. You stand there and when the train comes, it comes. How does knowing when it will come effect my life.

What, if the train is close I should not start a big chapter in the book I am reading?

Benjamin Kabak November 14, 2010 - 4:49 pm

It’s all about making commutes more pleasant and less stressful. Studies of public transit ridership patterns have shown that people are more accepting of their waits if they know how long they will be and are more likely to ride if they know they have access to that knowledge.

Alon Levy November 14, 2010 - 6:30 pm

The announcements are there to complement the countdown clocks, which blind people can’t see.

Alon Levy November 14, 2010 - 6:31 pm

There’s nothing wrong with having people from Maine do the recordings. The purpose of the subway isn’t to provide jobs for New York’s voice recorders; it’s to transport people in New York.

Angus Grieve-Smith November 14, 2010 - 6:51 pm

What’s wrong with having people from Maine – or Michigan, or England – do the recordings in New York is the implication that New Yorkers aren’t worthy of having their voices recorded.

Alon Levy November 14, 2010 - 9:36 pm

The implication I get is that the MTA decided she’s better-qualified than any New Yorker.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2010 - 12:23 pm

Olga Meredez who was the voice of the MTA in TV and radio commercials in the 1990s is or was a New Yorker and would be just as qualified. I accidentally met her once at a party while she was doing the commercials. Interesting person.

Alon Levy November 16, 2010 - 12:45 pm

It’s not the MTA’s job to give first dibs to New Yorkers, just like it’s not the MTA’s job to give first dibs on rolling stock to Americans. The MTA did nothing wrong in giving the R62A to Bombardier over Budd, and is doing nothing wrong in giving Hopkins the announcement recording job over Meredez.

petey November 15, 2010 - 9:00 am

i’m guessing there’s a rolodex of people who do voicings, and they picked her. it’s a clear voice, and after a lifetime of listening to subway announcements, that’s just fine with me.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2010 - 12:18 pm

You would think her name is picked from a pool. But I find it unusual that she was chosen to record for so many transit systems. Is her voice that unusual that no one else is as qualified?

gash22 November 14, 2010 - 7:44 pm

Its not a knock against New Yorkers, but she has a very clear and easy to understand voice. She has recorded announcements the world over for a reason, you can her voice very well over PA systems. In a city with millions of residents and visitors it is more important that she is understood than where she comes from.

As far as announcements and clocks go, I find them very useful. As seen in the video, some of these signs are at fare control, so you know if you need to hurry or not, if a train is coming I probably wont pause to top off my metro card, or I might be able to sprint and catch it.

ant6n November 14, 2010 - 10:24 pm

What can be irritating about the announcements is how they are put together.
“There is a … brooklyn-bound train…”.
Not only does it sound artificial, but it puts too much suspense into knowing where the train is going (just tell me where it goes right away!). Kind of adding stress back into the whole waiting game.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2010 - 12:16 pm

What’s wrong with “a Brooklyn bound train”. Sounds like useful information to me. It would only be a problem if you require further information like is it a New Lots or Flatbush train because the route number foes to both places at that time. But if all you require to know is that you are standing on the correct platform and that it is not going to the Bronx, the info is adequate.

Cyrus November 14, 2010 - 11:03 pm

I dont like how they have what the annoucer is saying on the countdown clocks.

I wish it would just be like the usual.
Train – 1 min
train – 10 min

Wayne's World November 15, 2010 - 10:43 am

I don’t mean to sound provincial, but I think that someone who actually lives in New York City should have that job. There are plenty of unemployed voiceover specialists who live in New York…why not contribute to New York’s employment ranks? And those who live in New York and work in New York actually pay taxes to New York City….so, it’s revenue for the city. It’s totally nuts that someone in Maine has this job.

Alon Levy November 15, 2010 - 10:21 pm

Those who live away from New York City probably keep their money in banks headquartered in New York City, buy books from publishers based in New York City, watch TV stations run by networks based in New York City, and buy products after seeing ads produced in New York City. It’s revenue for the city either way.


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