“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the unavoidable delay.”
It’s a statement that anyone who rides the New York subway is familiar with (and probably more than a little annoyed by). But who is actually saying it?
In a video for The New Yorker, filmmaker Andrew David Watson introduces us to the man behind the voice. Turns out that in addition to being the “stand clear of the closing doors” guy, Charlie Pellet is also a radio anchor for Bloomberg Radio. In his eerily familiar voice, Pellet recounts the little known story of how a group of radio personalities from Bloomberg are responsible for the current MTA announcement.
Here’s Pellet in his own words:
We had a couple of coworkers who went together on vacation to London. They heard the announcements on the London tube and they came back to New York and they were passionate about it and said, ‘What can we do to improve the quality of the announcements in New York subways system?’ Now you have to realize that back in the early ’90s, the announcements were very often muffled and gargled, you couldn’t always hear what was going on.
They set out on a course to improve the announcements. One thing led to another, someone at Bloomberg knew someone at the MTA, next thing you know they said ‘Hey, we’ve got some new subway cars coming out, can you guys record some sample announcements for us?’
A handful of radio announcers tried their hand at recording the announcements and the MTA chose Pellet’s. He’s been the voice of the subway system (and arguably the most recognizable voice in NYC) ever since.
The video brings up an interesting point: as annoying as it is to hear that your train is running late, or to be instructed for the umpteenth time to stand clear for the closing doors, the announcements couldn’t be clearer. You hear Pellets deep, friendly-yet-assertive voice come through loud and clear through the loudspeaker, and you know what to do, what to expect. Isn’t it much more pleasant–and I’d argue, more efficient–to hear the pre-recorded announcements than to hear the static-y, tangibly annoyed voice of your subway conductor? (NYC subway conductors sound notoriously garbled when making announcements; most missives are immediately followed by passengers asking each other what the conductor said.)
There are a lot of things about the New York subway system that could be improved upon–like the sound the turnstile makes when you swipe your card, the temperature of the subway platforms in the summer, and the layout of the subway cars, just to name a few. Yet the subway announcements remain largely untouched. “I’ve had at least 11 years, and by New York standards, that’s pretty impressive,” Pellet says proudly. That’s because it works.