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Monday
Jan042010

Guided by Subterranean Voices

It was 2AM on January 1st. I was speeding underground on the no. 2 subway line back from a party that said farewell to the year that was. As I struggled to keep myself awake, I suddenly heard a calming voice — two voices actually — that appeared to be guiding me home like a lighthouse or illuminated runway. 

These voices — a man’s and woman’s — seemed familiar but I wondered who they were or if they even existed. They usually said approximately the same phrases and used near perfect pronunciation with each sentence.

First the woman's informational message:

"This is a Manhattan-Bound Two Express Train. The Next Stop is Times Square."

And then the man's instruction:

"Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please!" 

Before getting too metaphysical I'll cut right to the chase. Of course I'm talking about the voices of the new(ish) New York City subway cars. As the old trains get phased out, so does that crackling, barely audible PA system and the conductor's responsibility to announce each station and overall safety. Along with better lighting, a clear display and more seating room, the new cars are equipped with prerecorded automated phrases that (usually) sound near perfect. On my way home that night I wondered who was behind these voices. I've since launched an investigation, and since there's an Internet I will now report my findings to you. 

Since July 2000, the new cars (starting with the R142) in the New York City Transit system have been anchored by a team of four voices: Charlie Pellett, Jessica Ettinger Gottesman, Dianne Thompson and Catherine Cowdery. As the story goes, in 1999, Bloomberg Radio (two years before Mayor Mike's election campaign) donated the time of some of its employees to the MTA as a “public service.” This group recorded various announcements for alerts that would ultimately become the sound of the underground for millions of New Yorkers. Their voices are now legendary.

Probably most familiar to anyone who rides the subway is Charlie Pellett. A native of England (yep, he kicked the accent), Mr. Pellett has lived in New York for almost 30 years and is currently a weekend host for Bloomberg Radio. He’s been with the company since 1992 and also anchors their daily market update for KING-TV in Seattle. His bio is here, and a clip from from his day job can be heard here

Mr. Pellett gives the subway commands — such as "We are being held momentarily by the train dispatcher. Please be patient."and many others — on every car with new audio system, while the voices' of Ms. Gottesman, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Cowdery provide the informational messages for different lines. (Side note: in a 2006 AM New York article, an MTA spokesperson said, "Most of the orders are given by a male voice, while informational messages come from females. Even though this happened by accident, it is a lucky thing because a lot of psychologists agree that people are more receptive to orders from men and information from women.") I won't even try to get into that one.  

And because I know you're wondering, here's who reads what: 

Dianne Thompson can be heard primarily reading the station announcements on the 1, 2, 3, F and 7 lines. Earlier in the decade Ms. Thompson co-anchored Bloomberg's Urban Business Report. Other than than that, there wasn't much biographical information available. We're not sure if she's still with Bloomberg, however it can be confirmed that Ms. Thompson will be the voice of the new A trains once they're in the subway the system.

Jessica Ettinger Gottesman reads the station announcements on the no. 4, 5 and 6 trains. According to her bio, Ms. Gottesman has a law degree and served as the anchor of CNN’s Local Edition in New York as well as Bloomberg News weekday mornings on the USA Network. In the mid 2000s, she was one of the anchors for Howard Stern's Howard 100 News Network on Sirius Radio (under the name Erica Phillips) and later became the channel's News Director. She eventually became Program Director at another Sirius talk station, while continuing as on-air talent (using her real name) for several other satellite radio programs. 

These days, Ms. Gottesman is an occasional correspondent for PBS' Nightly Business Report on and now resides in the Seattle area where she is the PM drive anchor KIRO Radio (audio here). Check out her quick interview with R & D TV below.

Next, there's Catherine Cowdery, the primary voice of the J, L, M, Z, N, Q and E trains. Ms. Cowdery is a relative newcomer compared to the other three, but she seems to be the voice of choice on the newer trains. She still works with Bloomberg Radio as a business anchor. 

It's worth noting that Ms. Cowdery is not the exclusive female voice on all trains listed above. She receives "help" from Ms. Thompson on J line messages: "transfer is available to the E train," the "AirTrain to JFK Airport" as well as on the N line: "Transfer is available to the M160 bus" and "This is a Manhattan Bound N train."

Finally, we'd be remiss to end this post without mentioning the original voice of the no. 5 train, Melissa Kleiner who was replaced when the announcement system was given its first upgrade. Ms. Kleiner spent a number of years at Bloomberg and created and hosted the cable show Rise and Shine New York. Interestingly, these days she is a real estate agent for Prudential Douglas Elliman.

We'll update this post if and when we receive changes and information on the other lines. Let's hope these now familiar voices stay in the trains for years to come and the MTA doesn't turn to celebrities to advise the daily commute. 

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Reader Comments (9)

Thank you so much for writing this!

January 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

"We are being held momentarily by the train dispatcher" is informational, not a command (versus "Please be patient," which you declined to add at the end). That paragraph had the potential to be eye-opening, except that you started it with an example that completely refutes the point. Oh well.

January 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Good catch Brian; thanks for pointing out.

January 8, 2010 | Registered CommenterWViT

Cool info for a New York City nerd like me!

January 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

Another voice just joined the ranks of those being heard underground. The MTA started rolling out in December countdown clocks paired with voice announcements to let those in the station know when the next train will arrive. The voice on these announcements is NYC radio traffic reporter Bernie Wagenblast. He can also be heard on the Airtrain at Kennedy and Newark airports. The new subway announcements are scheduled to be in all the 1-6 line stations by the end of the year and throughout the system by 2014.

January 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Thanks Jack! This is all excellent information to know. We're going to update the post with your details soon. And thanks for reading.

January 20, 2010 | Registered CommenterWViT

One thing you may add is that Charlie Pellet also did (and still does) the announcements for the LIRR and the M7A's/M8's on the MNRR. Also MTA-work, so he still does that.

February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVistausss

This was pretty interesting. I actually stumbled on this info and found my name. I am no longer at Bloomberg, but now writing and editing for a blog about Baby Boomer women and men. If I'm asked to record the new A train announcements, I'd be happy to do so. It was fun! Thanks for considering our voices soothing. Those were great years!

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDianne Thompson

Kathleen campion is actually the voice of the a c and f lines, as well as the Manhattan bound n, and various transfer announcements on several subway lines. Dianne Thompson is only records for the 1 2 and 3 lines.

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermarc o'connell

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