Will I Be the Voice of the D.C. Metro?


Jan. 30, 2006 — -- If you've ridden the D.C. Metro, like I have for the last eight years, you've heard that polite warning to "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors" on every ride, at every stop on Metro's five rail lines.

But let's face it, who really listens to that announcement? For many, it is the audible version of a yellow light ("Run and jump for it, or you'll miss the train.") For others, it's simply the background noise of a daily grind, tuned out by millions of riders.

After using the same monotone female voice for the last decade, Metro officials finally recognized what we riders had known for a while: It was time for a change.

Enter the "Doors Closing Voice 2006" contest. And enter me.

OK, so it wasn't "American Idol." (Really, thank God it isn't "American Idol.") No Simon scowls. No props from Randy. No multicity auditions with thousands of wannabes screaming (and crying, and begging, and cursing) at a pop-idol host with a slightly annoying catch phrase.

No, this was just a little contest between me and 1,258 other folks vying to become the voice that pervades the soul of millions of Washingtonians who ride the Metro day in and day out.

Actually, blame my girlfriend, Erika. She's the one who sent me the blog page with the Metro contest details and a note that read: "You should do this, dude" -- or something like that.

Never one to take a taunt from Erika lightly, I did. To her surprise and delight, I did.

I downloaded the audition script, she opened the wine. I read, she poured. With each sip, the readings got better and better. After 20 minutes of me saying: "We are currently experiencing delays on the red line" and "Next stop, Grosvenor-Strathmore," I was ready to cut my demo. (By the way, the "V" in Grosvenor is silent -- I know because I called Metro to ask.)

With the help of an editor friend, I recorded the Metro-mandated audition announcements onto an old analog cassette and dropped it off at Metro HQ one minute before the deadline. "There! Erika, I did it!" I told myself as I climbed back into a waiting cab. In my mind, I was done. I never expected the call back.

A little disclosure: I'm a producer for ABC News and have been covering the Bush White House for the last five years. I have been around professional voice-over artists and reporters for most of my career. I, however, am not a professional voice artist or performer. Oh sure, I did some stage work and took diction classes in college, and, in a pinch, I phone in reports for ABC News Radio when news breaks. But I generally prefer being behind the scenes, not behind the microphone or in front of a camera.

But something made me do this. Something beyond the good-natured dare from Erika. Maybe it's the fact that I want to be the one to tell those idiots who refuse to move from the doorway when people are trying to board or get off the trains to get the heck out of the way. (Note: You know who you are, please cut it out.)

In any case, no one was more surprised than I to find a message waiting on my voice mail last week informing me that I was a finalist -- one of 10 picked to record in a studio. And no one was more surprised than I to find out the media had been invited to record the sessions for everyone to see.

The reaction: My boss? Laughter. My editor friend? Laughter. My colleagues? Laughter. Erika? Uncontrolled laughter. But they all loved it and supported me in my quest.

It was down to me, two other guys, and seven women -- and the possibility that my voice would be burned into the subconscious of millions of people in D.C.

No scripts, no rehearsal. Just head on in and give it my best shot. Those were the minimalist instructions from the Metro officials overseeing the contest.

And so, through four TV cameras, two print reporters, a radio reporter, and a couple of TV producers, I marched into a sound studio. I donned a pair of headphones, adjusted the microphone, took a sip of water, and gave it all I had.

"The doors will close in 3, 2, 1."

"Please stand back so that customers may exit the train."

"When boarding, please move to the center of the car."

Palms were sweaty, breathing was shallow. I felt like I was out of my element -- like I didn't belong in there. But the engineer was reassuring and encouraging as he gave me instructions on how to read the scripts.

"Doors closing. … Doors closing. … Doors closing."

First use a polite voice, the engineer said. Next, use an authoritative voice, he said. It got easier as I did more -- and as I forgot the cameras were there.

And then it was over. Twenty minutes was all it took. And I didn't even get to meet any of my competitors. The Metro officials said we'd know who had won in a week, handed me a board game (a D.C. version of Monopoly since there is no prize money in this contest), and said goodbye.

I gave the standard interviews in the hallway afterward. "Yes, it was fun. … No, I won't be disappointed if I don't win. … Yes, it will be very odd to hear my voice every day on the train if I win." Actually, I'm not sure what was harder: recording the Metro announcements or being the interviewee rather than the interviewer.

Now I wait for word and, in the meantime, endure the endless e-mails from friends and colleagues that have nothing but quotes from current Metro recordings in them. And I have heard some knowing laughter in the halls at work.

They're right to laugh because it is funny. But if I win, funny or not, they'd better stand clear of the doors!

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