Photo by AlbinoFlea on Flickr.

Good speakers aren’t always good subway operators, and vice versa. In a city where most of the subway stations look alike and a large percentage of riders are tourists, a clear announcement system is key. What if Metro used local celebrities to make train and station announcements?

Some Metro drivers mumble incomprehensively, or the poor quality of the sound system muddles their voice. Other drivers speak clearly, but cut off the microphone halfway through the message.  And all of them should focus on driving, not speaking.

The DC area is a region of many notable voices. Why not take advantage of that and have some famous local voices make recordings?

Riders will always need verbal announcements on the train. The new Metro cars will have lighted destination signs. But when they’re crowded, they will be of limited use to me because I am short, and handrails obscure the lettering, making it difficult to read unless you are already familiar with the station names.

In Moscow, it used to be that the recordings had a male voice when riders were headed to work downtown in the morning, and a female voice when headed home that evening. That system was archaic, even for Moscow, and won’t work here. But recording voices for the station announcements is still a good idea.

With so many notable voices in the region, Metro could take advantage by having famous local voices record announcements. Each celebrity could do about 4 or 5 stations, defining an area.

Riders on the Green Line near College Park could hear Kermit the Frog, a famous alumnus with a famous voice. Takoma Park native Goldie Hawn could voice announcements on the Red Line headed towards Takoma, while her Blair High School classmate Ben Stein could take over at Silver Spring. Where the train passes Channel 5’s headquarters in Van Ness, newscaster Sue Palka could remind riders not to leave personal belongings behind.

The different announcers could become part of our regional lexicon, along with the “third alphabet.” Soon, folks will say someone “lives out past Palka.”

Not all local voices are appropriate, though. As tempting as it is to have Bill Clinton do Farragut West, keeping politicians out of the mix is a better idea, no matter how memorable Eleanor Holmes Norton’s and Marion Barry’s voices are.

Let’s have some suggestions. Who would you have do some of the recordings?

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Tagged: metro, transit, wmata

Tracey Johnstone is a recovering political pollster who is completing a dissertation on Russian economic reform. She is also secretary of the Action Committee for Transit. She has lived in downtown Bethesda since 1996, and previously lived in Toronto, Moscow, and Alexandria (before the Metro).