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The voice of the T calls it quits

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Frank Oglesby, right, put his arms in the air when Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator and acting general manager, said he would like to find a way to keep Oglesby as the voice of the Voice of the MBTA. With Oglesby were his wife, Margaret, center, and son, Nigel, 15.

By Nicole Dungca Globe Staff 

Frank Oglesby Jr. used to think his smooth baritone would lead to a career in local radio.

But more than 20 years ago, he happened upon a job with an even larger audience: He became the voice of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

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If you’ve ever ridden the system, Oglesby’s voice is the one telling you your Red Line train is now arriving or to change here for the Red or Orange Line. Now, after several decades at the MBTA, Oglesby is retiring.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet, honestly,” said Oglesby, who was celebrated by friends and colleagues at a retirement party at the agency’s headquarters Friday. “It’s almost as though it’s not really happening.”

Oglesby, who grew up in Roxbury and Newton, has the MBTA in his blood: His father put his kids through college by driving a bus for the agency for 35 years.

By the time Oglesby graduated from UMass Amherst, he was scouting out jobs at local radio stations like WGBH. But he also applied to become an editorial assistant at the T under the general manager at the time, James O’Leary.

He chose the job at the MBTA in November 1984, when he was 22 years old. He wrote and proofread correspondence for O’Leary as well as the transportation secretary at the time, Fred Salvucci.

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Oglesby worked in many capacities at the agency over the decades, eventually rising to his most recent position overseeing the agency’s contracts with the companies that operate the paratransit system, the Ride.

Customer service work was his favorite at the T, but Oglesby’s most public-facing job will always be his announcements on the subway, which he began doing in 1994. At the time, he said, the agency knew it had to start running pre-taped announcements.

“The motormen used to make the announcements, or they wouldn’t — and that was the problem,” he said.

If a rider was blind, for example, that person wouldn’t know when to get off the train without the driver making an announcement — and that didn’t comply with federal requirements. To get in line with the law, the T started looking for a voice.

Coworkers already knew Oglesby had a good voice that would soothe customers. When he worked in customer service, he would deal with the “tough cases,” getting back to irate riders with substantive information about why, for instance their bus hadn’t picked them up.

“I had a calm voice and it helped,” he said.

That reputation led to managers asking Oglesby to narrate internal training videos — so he seemed to be a natural fit for the announcements.

Before long, his voice — which he said “sounded like a man” by age 14— was booming all over the system.

When his family takes the subway in the city, his children will exclaim, “That’s Daddy.” Visitors overhear him while he’s wearing a T lanyard around his neck, and recognize his voice.

“My friends make fun of it, too,” he said. “They enjoy being on the train and saying, ‘Frank, I heard you all the way in this morning,’ or, ‘If I miss you, I’ll just hop on the Green Line.’ ”

He hopes he can do more announcements for the agency, even after leaving. But he’s also focused on pursuing even more voiceover work and that radio dream he gave up on years before.

He’s just 54 years old, so he has plenty of time to try. And the MBTA has been the perfect place to hone his skills, he said.

“I’m good with a cold read and I can run through a page pretty quickly,” he said. “I’ve just had so much practice.”

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Frank Oglesby, right, put his arms in the air when Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator and acting general manager, said he would like to find a way to keep Oglesby as the voice of the Voice of the MBTA. With Oglesby were his wife, Margaret, center, and son, Nigel, 15.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.