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Picking a Voice of Reason

(Gerald Martineau - Staff)

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By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

There is no cash prize, no Broyhill living room set, not even a free Metro ride -- just bragging rights and your voice piped into subway cars 33,017 times a day.

But the suspense mounts: Who will win the great Voice of Metrorail contest today? Which singular sound will be selected from among 10 finalists, whose voices range from bass to soprano, from smoky to bubbly?

Will it be the federal bureaucrat with the Southern twang? The second-grade teacher with the chipper tone? The sultry car dealership employee?

The finalists, chosen from 1,259 entries, awoke this morning to the possibility of hitting the big time, of being anointed the new voice of Metro and recording the "doors closing" message that plays on every Metro train after every station stop. The voice will replace a 10-year-old recording that transit officials said has grown so stale no one pays attention to it anymore.

The winner will enjoy a peculiar type of celebrity. His or her voice will become one of the distinctive sounds of Washington, intimately familiar to Metro's 700,000 daily subway riders.

Metro officials were stunned by the interest in the contest. The transit agency was flooded with audition recordings from as far away as Seattle. A panel of Metro managers narrowed the field to 10, all of whom live in the metropolitan area and half of whom ride Metro regularly.

This morning, three judges -- the head of marketing for Metro, a representative of the ad agency under contract with Metro and a former local anchorwoman -- will listen to recordings made in a professional studio and select a winner.

Who would compete for this faceless honor?

"It would be a dream come true," said finalist Steve Broido, a 30-year-old District resident. "It would be so awesome. I'm pretty excited, I have to admit -- just the idea that it could be your voice!"

Broido works for "The Motley Fool," a financial-advice radio program, but labors behind the scenes as a producer, not on the air. He practiced his "doors closing" announcements in the shower.

"It's going to be tough," said Broido, who sings bass in an a cappella group. "It all depends on what they're looking for. They're looking for a specific paint chip, and there are millions of paint chips."

John Howell, 35, is a federal worker with no radio experience. He does, however, have a deep voice and a 4-year-old son who is crazy about trains. "I saw this as a blatant opportunity to win Dad points," said Howell, who made his audition tape on a recorder in his Fairfax Station garage and was stunned to be named a finalist.

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