More Celebrity Voices and Promo Spots Coming to Subway Stations and Trains (2024)

The MTA is testing new audio tracks in the subway — with on-train announcements from boldface name New Yorkers and in-station promotions for big-ticket events.

New agency documents detail the MTA’s plans for a pair of one-year pilot programs that will gauge rider reaction to announcements aboard trains and to some that will, at select stations, play paid advertisem*nts for sporting and entertainment events.

Promotional spots similar to those played in stations for the 2023 movie, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” are set to be heard in stations with accompanying display ads, while on-train announcements could feature celebrities sticking to the MTA’s script on pre-recorded next-stop and public-safety messages.

“There is a human connection with the subway, whether that’s a celebrity New Yorker or a conductor, and that part is important,” Bernie Wagenblast, the veteran traffic reporter whose voice is heard in station announcements along the numbered lines and the 42nd Street shuttle, told THE CITY. “If you hear someone like Jimmy Fallon or Jerry Seinfeld, your ears are going to perk up.”

The subway announcement partnership program and the station audio advertising pilot program are set to be put to the test through late March of 2025 and into early April, according to the records dated March 22 and signed by Fredericka Cuenca, the transit agency’s deputy chief development officer.

“We are exploring how best to leverage various assets to ensure maximum revenue potential and to enhance the rider experience,” MTA spokesperson Eugene Resnick said in a statement to THE CITY.

Both trial runs are designed to raise money for the agency through fees charged to program partners, the documents show, and ads will be tightly regulated by its advertising policy, which bars political content, sexually explicit ads, encouraging unsafe behavior within the transit system, promotion of tobacco, alcohol and more.

The rules for both pilot programs will also put limits on volume levels within stations and how frequently ads can play over public address systems.

“Only one advertiser will be permitted to run a Station Audio Advertisem*nt in a given Location on any given day,” reads the rundown for the subway station ads pilot program. “The MTA will run only a Station Audio Advertisem*nt once every [10] minutes (at the most); and all Station Audio Announcements shall be no more than [30] seconds in length.”

For on-train announcements, the transit agency will have sole approval over which celebrity spokesperson delivers the message, the lines on which they are played and how long they will be allowed to run.

So don’t count on a subway ride turning into an open-mic event.

“The MTA will exercise full control over all aspects of the Subway Announcements,” the document says. “The MTA does not intend to open — and is not opening — any type of forum for the expression of speech by private parties with the initiation of the Subway Announcement Partnership Program.”

‘Obnoxious Sellout’

This won’t be the first time celebrities have voiced messages over subway train public-address speakers.

In 2021, more than two dozen notable New Yorkers — including comedian Seinfeld, rapper Cam’ron, actress Edie Falco and Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay — recorded pandemic-era announcements urging riders to wear facial coverings in the subway system.

Early in 2020, rapper and actress Awkwafina served as the automated voice of the No. 7 line during a one-week partnership with the MTA that promoted her Comedy Central series, “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens.”

On newer subway trains, the MTA largely relies on pre-recorded announcements, while conductors make announcements on older cars.

The voices of those making the pre-recorded announcements in trains and stations are familiar to straphangers.

In 2015, The New Yorker labeled Charlie Pellett — the veteran Bloomberg Radio voice who famously says “Stand clear of the closing doors, please” on trains — as “The Most Recognizable Voice in New York.”

Another longtime subway voice belongs to Wagenblast, who last year came out as a transgender woman and debuted a new voice for in-station announcements that were initially recorded around 2009.

More Celebrity Voices and Promo Spots Coming to Subway Stations and Trains (2)

Wagenblast said pre-recorded announcements tend to be of higher sound quality, but pointed out that they still need the help of public-address systems on trains and in stations.

“So then it can be more understandable to the people who are listening,” she said. “I think that’s part of the challenge.”

Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, praised the transit agency for looking for ways to deliver clearer announcements, but noted that audible advertisem*nts in stations could annoy riders.

“Audio ads will just lead to more sound clutter and can lead riders to tune out what they need to hear — and also take time away from information-sharing,” she said. “Hopefully, they are limited, very limited.”

The MTA — whose 2024 operating budget is $19 billion — raises more than $150 million a year in advertising revenue, according to transit agency budget documents.

A Daily News editorial in the wake of the 2023 “Indiana Jones” ads cited the importance of that income for the MTA, but cited the fictional French archaeologist who turned on Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” before writing “hell no” to audible promotions in the transit system.

“Not since Dr. René Belloq have we seen a more obnoxious sellout,” the news outlet’s editorial board wrote.

While waiting to catch a train Thursday at the 47-50 Rockefeller Center stop in Midtown, rider Leah Dacosta says she sometimes cannot make out conductor or pre-recorded announcements in the subway because of muffled speakers and added that in-station audio ads could confuse some riders.

“If you hear an announcement, you think it’s actual information, not about some event,” said Dacosta, 24, of Brooklyn.

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More Celebrity Voices and Promo Spots Coming to Subway Stations and Trains (2024)

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