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Meet the voice of the MBTA

Posted on May 27, 2014

By  Morgan Rousseau , Metro

As part of Metro’s ongoing Bold Bostonians Q-and-A series featuring interesting people in Boston, we sat down with Frank Oglesby, the soothing baritone sound behind the announcements on the MBTA.

The towering, 29-year veteran of the MBTA has been recording the T’s service announcements since the early 1990s. 

How did you get your start doing the MBTA announcements?
Back in 1990s I was in the marketing department, and they had an audio/visual unit that was run by a gentleman who used to be a bus operator – his name was Ed Vardebedium – and Ed would record safety videos for training with the help of a southern gentleman who had a deep voice and a southern. Ed was not satisfied with that gentleman’s diction. He had heard about me from other people in the department. He asked if I was willing to read for him, and I said “Sure.” I did, he liked the way I sounded, asked if I was interested in continuing to help with the videos and I said yes. That’s how it all started. 

What’s it like for you to hear your voice come through the speakers?
I hear every little mistake. I sometimes hear the intonation is in the wrong place, or I’ll hear aspects of the announcements that are not ideal in my opinion. More and more I’m satisfied with what I hear because every few months they have me in a studio recording new announcements, public service announcements, and new stops. The way I record now is usually one take. I’m less critical now when I hear my announcements. 

How have you seen the T change over the years?
There has been a positive change in terms of how it’s become a work place of choice, that follows best practices. It’s a great place to work. It has progressed so far from the early 80s when the priority wasn’t the mental and emotional well being of your employee. It was just about getting the job done. Transportation typically has a kind of paramilitary aspect to it, just get the trains out on time. And that still has to happen. That has its place, but there has to be some humanity in management, and it’s there now. It’s the kind of authority I always wished it could be. 

What’s it been like since General Manager Beverly Scott took over?
It’s been good. All that experience she’s brought with her, it’s a breath of fresh air. It adds to a feeling that any good thing is possible. Good ideas can be followed through on, and employees are happy about that. 

When you meet new people, do they ever recognize your voice?
Occasionally I will get that. I’m not around Boston a lot because I live out in Western Mass. But sometimes they’ll hear me and say, “I knew I knew your voice.” I’ve had people ask me to sign their Charlie card. It’s nice, but I don’t do it for the recognition. I enjoy helping passengers because I know they get lost. People have told me I have a comforting, soothing voice. That feels good, because I like to think that I’m a nice guy. 

Do you have any special rituals before you record?
No, and you can’t drink too much water because you’ll start burping in the mic, that’s terrible. Lalalalalala – that I’ll do. And I’ve got this page with a series of exercises like, ‘A gaggle of geese,’ a swarm of ducks. ‘ It starts really simple and then the syllables get more and more complicated. If you can get through a whole page you’re really amazing. There was a time where I could get through the whole thing on one breath. Not right now – I can manage three fourths of the page. 

Have you ever considered a career in radio?
I’m more interested in voice overs than in being on the radio as a DJ. I’ve been in the actors union. I’ve done commercials. I’ve done extra stuff on movies and at some point I’ll get back to that. Maybe when I retire. I get enough practice on the MBTA, and I practice at home with my young son. 

Do you have any hobbies?
I’m involved in Chinese martial arts, particularly a martial art called Bagua Zhang. Every part of your body is a weapon; your back, your butt, everything. I’m with a really mature great group of guys; two are ex-marines who have the biggest hearts in the world. We don’t hurt each other on purpose. We go to the point where we know its effective. I’ve been in that for 14 years now, but I’ve been in the arts for 25 years. I’ve done almost everything Chinese you can imagine. Anyone can do it, you just have to dedicate some time. 

Bet you didn’t know…

He was born in Georgia, but moved to Roxbury at six weeks old. In 1970, his family moved to Newton. 
His dad drove a T bus for 34 years. 
His first experience with voice work began at UMass Amherst, where he worked at the campus radio station. 
He now lives with his family in East Long Meadow, Mass. 
He’s worked at the T for 29 years, most recently as the Deputy Director of Paratransit Contract Operations. His 30-year anniversary is coming up in February. 
He’s read thousands of phrases for the T announcements, and continues to make new recordings. 
He loves to hang out in Chinatown. 

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