Frank Oglesby, the ‘Voice of the MBTA,’ Is Retiring
The next MBTA train to retirement is now arriving.
Frank Oglesby, Jr., the T employee whose crisp baritone commuters will recognize from the automated clips that herald the comings and goings of Boston’s public transit system, is moving on.
For more than 20 years, the man who the agency calls the “Voice of the T” has recorded announcements on everything from reminders not to smoke, please, to the imminence of the next Blue Line train to Bowdoin. He’s retiring at the end of July.
“It just seemed like a good time,” says Oglesby, 54, who over the phone truly does sound like the announcer guy everyone knows, only more human.
After starting out as an editorial assistant for the T’s general manager in the 1980s, the UMass Amherst alum got his start as the agency’s go-to voice actor when he was picked to narrate MBTA training videos. He would go on to record all of the system’s announcements—hundreds of them, as the city worked to comply with new Americans with Disabilities Act rules requiring that information about stops in public transportation be shared regularly and clearly.
It was always a side gig. His day job at the T has included working in departments for diversity, customer service, and, most recently, serving as the agency’s deputy director of paratransit contract operations. But Oglesby says he loves putting his golden pipes to use and studying the craft of voice artistry. After retirement, he’s hoping to share his talents with the world.
“I’ve got the equipment. I’ve got a little studio,” he says, adding that the market for voiceover experts—for things like ad spots, narration or books on tape—has mostly moved online, so he can work from home. “If you tried to do this 35 years ago, it was just impossible. Today you can have your own studio in your house in a closet.”
He’s already been tapped for roles outside his usual T duties. He’s emceed for the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and the Women Who Move the Nation, and has recorded PSAs for the state Department of Revenue (in one, he advises people to pay taxes and “escape the penalty box”). He plans to re-join the Screen Actors Guild (he’s been an extra in some movies and commercials), and may try his hand at theater.
And, if the MBTA will let him, he’ll keep contributing his voice to those ubiquitous automated messages (T spokesman Joe Pesaturo says “there have been no discussions yet” about whether Oglesby will still do the recordings).
“It’s fun for me,” Oglesby says. “I really don’t want to stop.”
There’s something about Oglesby’s voice that just works. It says something that the T’s ultra-finicky ridership has abided his messages pretty much without complaint for decades.
“To public transit users everywhere, there is almost nothing more important than clear and articulate station announcements,” the MBTA wrote in a statement to Boston. “And no one does it better than Frank Oglesby.”
This is no easy feat. Remember “Pay your fare, it’s only fair,” the relentless PSA that tormented Green Line riders earlier this year? It lasted, what, a week? Noticeably, perhaps tellingly, Oglesby wasn’t responsible for them.
“I guess they chose to do it with someone else. I just only heard about it today,” he says. (According to the T, a woman from the agency’s Operations Control Center lent her voice to the campaign).
Told of how poorly the PSA targeting fare-dodgers was received, Oglesby laughs. “Then I’m glad it’s not me.”
Technically, not everyone is satisfied with the man telling them on which side of the train the doors will open, though. The complaint Oglesby hears most often is that he doesn’t sound like a local.
“People wanted more of the Boston accent. ‘Ova heeah,’ that sort of thing. They thought that was more genuine than mine. People have accused me of being a Canadian disk jockey,” he says, “or a robot.
“Well, when my delivery has been colorless, it was because I was directed to be that way.”
If commuters really didn’t like Oglesby, they would have made that fact known a long time ago. But they do like him. And he’s even attained a kind of celebrity status in some circles. If you ask him, he’ll sign your CharlieCard. He’ll even record a personalized message on your phone, like he did recently for a fan at a conference in Dallas.
“That’s the thing I like most about this, is I get to help people,” he says. “The utilitarian part of it is a big deal, the fact that I’m directing people—where they’re at, when the train is coming, when it’s arriving. But also, some people get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”
A goodbye party is planned for Oglesby this Friday, July 29, at 12:30 p.m., in a second-floor conference room at the state transportation building.