Next time you go to the airport, listen up.
Not just to that guy seated next to you in the gate area making a deal on his cellphone. But to the recorded announcements on the public address system.
Some airports are customizing their public address messages to make themselves stand out against the general sameness of air travel and to improve communications with travelers.
To accomplish the goals, airports are finding distinctive voices for the routine announcements, injecting some fun into those announcements and using celebrities for specialized messages.
At Boston, Joe LoGiudice, an airport supervisor and part-time professional voice actor, is the "voice" of Logan airport. He delivers not only the routine announcements in the airport, but provides the voice for recorded telephone information and for the airport's low-power radio station.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have all recorded personal messages welcoming visitors to the state.
Most airports these days use generic-sounding automated voices or recordings made by professional voice actors to deliver security messages and general information. Typically, an airport will hire an agency that produces radio and television commercials to record the announcements. The "talent" is generally a professional voice actor. A few airports use computer software that can generate announcements in several languages.
In Tennessee, the Nashville International Airport partnered with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau to enlist Nashville recording artists to record terminal announcements.
For example, says Emily Richard of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, country artist Lee Ann Womack greets visitors this way: "This is Lee Ann Womack inviting you to relax and unwind in one of the airport's many restaurants. Thank you for choosing Nashville International Airport."
Charlie Daniels, Wynonna Judd and members of the Sugarland and Lonestar bands have recorded announcements for the Nashville airport.
"We now have the recording labels and business managers of artists contacting us to provide terminal announcements," Richard says. "They know this is a great way to get their artist's voice and name to millions of visitors."
At Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va., Gov. Joe Manchin's recorded voice welcomes visitors. Amanda Wilson, a radio veteran who works for the airport's advertising agency, voices most announcements, and she adds a little bit of fun.
Wilson urges people to "have a fantastic day" while alerting them to security measures. She slips in a few one-liners to keep folks on their toes.
For example, in the standard announcement warning travelers not to accept any packages from an unknown person she adds, "Especially that shifty-looking guy over there."
The Transportation Security Administration prescribes wording for security announcements, but the agency says it's willing to work with airports that want to customize the delivery.
Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., has received permission to replace the recorded announcements supplied by the TSA with the voice of Ray Holbrook, a longtime local radio and television personality.
Holbrook, 78, spent more than 40 years in local media and now does commercials for radio and television. After 9/11, airport officials approached him to record some of the announcements on the airport's public address system. He continues to do so.
His pay? Breakfast, complete with biscuits and gravy.
Holbrook says he enjoys the positive feedback from travelers who hear his announcements.
"A lot of people tell me, 'We know we're home when we hear you.' I like that I can make people feel comfortable, especially the way things are for travelers these days."
Blue Grass Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb says Holbrook "has a way of reassuring our customers," comparing it to the effect that former CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite had on his audience.
Holbrook's voice may be reassuring, but at McCarran airport in Las Vegas, some of the recorded voices you'll hear at the airport are downright entertaining.
Since the early 1970s, celebrities who have headlined at the many showrooms in town have recorded messages for moving walkways, reminding travelers to stand to the right so folks in a hurry can rush by on the left. Over the years, the voices have included Bill Cosby, Dick Clark, Phyllis Diller, Rich Little and Rodney Dangerfield.
"They all did it for free," says Randall Walker, airport director. "The messages are all funny and clever. The whole concept is to grab people's attention. If people don't pay attention, then it has no effect."
Paying attention on the moving walkway is important, but at the security checkpoint, it's essential. So, in 2004, the airport joined forces with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to spice up the videos shown to passengers waiting in line.
Now, instead of the standard, stern, TSA-supplied instruction videos, passengers can be heard chuckling and occasionally guffawing at entertainment icons such as Wayne Newton and Cirque du Soleil, comics Carrot Top and Rita Rudner, and assorted clowns, magicians and celebrity impersonators.
The videos show those characters trying to get their medical devices, loose change, giant footwear, weapons and oversized carry-on bags past straight-faced security officers.