Metro Chooses New 'Doors' Voice

(Gerald Martineau - Staff)
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

A 44-year-old Woodbridge woman whose only broadcast experience is the intercom at the car dealership where she works was selected yesterday to be the new voice of Metro.

Randi Miller was chosen from among 1,259 contestants across the country who competed to record the "doors closing" message that plays each time a train leaves a station in the nation's second-busiest subway system.

"This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me," Miller said as she stood inside the Gallery Place Metro station moments after a Metro manager unsealed a red envelope and announced her name, setting off flashes from news cameras. "For the last week, I've been dreaming about winning this thing. I guess dreams come true."

Miller, a lease retention manager whose smoky alto draws compliments whenever she pages someone on the public-address system at Lindsay Lexus, was encouraged to enter the contest by her boss.

She will not be paid for the recordings, and at yesterday's ceremony there was no sash or tiara -- just the satisfaction of knowing her voice will be played 33,017 times a day.

"Randi's was the voice that commanded attention but was warm," said Doris McMillon, a former local television anchorwoman and one of the judges. "We liked her sound. She has great pipes."

They also selected a runner-up, Linda Carducci of Vienna, in case Miller is unable to fulfill her recording duties.

Metro officials said they decided to make a new recording for the "doors closing" warning because the existing recording, made by District resident Sandy Carroll in 1996, had become stale.

"The message and the door chime have become a little like the yellow signal on a traffic light," said Jim Hughes, Metro's deputy general manager for operations. "The purpose of the chime is to tell people to step back, that doors are closing. But our customers hear that, and they run to get on a train. . . . It's got to be a different voice, something that sounds different, because right now it's background noise."

Miller's recordings will be tested on a small number of rail cars by late February and then expanded systemwide by spring.

The new message is one of several things the transit agency is doing to try to improve the way people enter and leave rail cars and circulate inside stations. Metro is also redesigning the interior of new rail cars, taking out some seats and moving handrails, to try to speed up boarding and exiting.

Soon after the agency announced in December that it wanted a new recording, Metro received unsolicited calls from broadcasters offering their services, and the idea of a contest was born. Transit officials were taken aback by the level of public interest in the competition; contestants entered from as far away as Seattle.

A committee of Metro managers listened to all 1,259 audition recordings and narrowed the field to 10 finalists: seven women and three men. All 10 were white, despite the region's diversity. Debra Johnson, a Metro manager who helped choose the finalists, said the panelists were given no information about the contestants except their names. "We didn't know if they were white, black, purple or green," Johnson said. "When we were listening, we were only focused on whether it was clear, whether it was audible."

Miller, who does not regularly ride Metro, acknowledged the irony of her working for a car dealership. "Maybe I could record something like, 'Thank you for riding Metro. But wouldn't you rather ride in the luxury of a Lexus?' " she joked.

As she rode a crowded Red Line train yesterday, her accomplishment began to sink in. "Can you imagine having 700,000 people hear your voice every day?" asked Miller, who planned a celebration dinner last night with friends at a restaurant. "Very cool." When the other passengers in the train learned Miller had won the voice contest, they offered cheers and laughed as she offered a live rendition of "doors closing."

Rhonda Carpenter was getting ready to exit the rail car but paused to congratulate Miller on her newfound fame. "Be hearing you!" Carpenter tossed over her shoulder as she stepped off the train.

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