The Voice of TheBus


POSTED: Saturday, December 05, 2009

Question: I'm a bus rider. The buses have announcements as to what stop it is, the bus number, destination, etc. The announcements are made by a friendly man's voice. I find it interesting how he pronounces the names of the places. Is this a real person's voice, or is it electronically produced? If it is a real person, can you tell us a little bit about him?

Answer: The “;Voice of TheBus”; belongs to Puakea Nogelmeier, an associate professor of Hawaiian language, poetry and literature at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

But, “;What you hear on TheBus is about a half-note above my real rumble,”; he confesses. Normally, “;I speak in sort of a low roar.”;

Oahu Transit Services began using prerecorded voices aboard its buses in 1993 to aid the visually impaired and other passengers.

“;Prior to this, operators were required to call out stops and destinations to passengers with or without the assistance of an on-board public address system,”; said OTS spokes- woman Michelle Kennedy.

Interestingly, use of “;our progressive technology”; has not been implemented by many other bus systems across the nation, she said.

The initial voice used was chosen by the company that provided the new system, which resulted in a mainlander pronouncing local names based on phonetically written words provided by OTS, said Jon Nouchi, director of Planning and Service Development.

Brickwood Galuteria, former radio host and now a state senator, was later picked to be the on-board voice of city buses.

In 1999, OTS began searching for another so-called “;annunciator”;—or, as Nogelmeier described it in his resonant voice, “;an announcer who enunciates.”;

OTS officials were testing different systems as the technology kept evolving, and had considered a number of people to succeed Galuteria.

Nouchi had been one of Nogelmeier's students at UH-Manoa, where he has taught for 25 years, and felt that his former teacher had all the qualities needed, except for one: His voice was considered too low.

Enter digital technology.

At the first recording, “;We did it by me literally standing on tiptoes talking at the top of my range the whole time,”; Nogelmeier recalled. “;Then they digitally moved it up still further.”;

It took several months to complete the recordings. In 2003, with improved technology, Nogelmeier was brought in to re-record everything.

How many different phrases did he have to say? “;I would say a bajillion,”; he laughed.

Actually, there are 5,000 to 6,000 phrases involving about 100 routes that had to be recorded, Nouchi said. Since January those phrases include public service advisories announced periodically on all buses.

Being the “;Voice of TheBus”; is not as easy a job as it might seem.

Not only do you have to get the pronunciations correct, but you have to worry about inflection and tone and teeny variations in sound.

Nogelmeier noted he had to pronounce each stop twice, saying, for example, “;Kapiolani and King”; and “;King and Kapiolani.”;

He explained that there is a difference in sound if a word is said at the beginning of a phrase compared with saying it at the end. Technicians wanted both inflections so they could move the words around digitally: “;It's like playing cards—you can shuffle (them).”;

Nouchi said Nogelmeier turned out to be a good fit for TheBus for many reasons, among them “;his ability to be consistent over a long period of time.”;

Respected as a translator, composer, author and teacher, Nogelmeier said he realizes “;that no matter what other accomplishments I may achieve in this lifetime, it will probably go on my tombstone, 'He was the 'Voice of TheBus.'”;

That's fine with him because of the unexpected influence he has had on the language.

“;I am proud to do it because it's a service that I think really does something,”; he said. The other reason is how “;rapidly and powerfully”; his correct pronunciations effected change.

“;Almost immediately, all the bus drivers started pronouncing the names the way I was pronouncing them,”; Nogelmeier said.

Now bus drivers will say, “;Kina'u,”; with the 'okina (glottal stop), instead of “;Key-now.”; Or “;Alapa'i”; instead of “;Ala-pie,”; Nogelmeier said. In turn, passengers have picked up the pronunciations.

Both he and Nouchi “;were blindsided”; by that fact, Nogelmeier said. “;It's not that I am the perfect speaker or the unimpeachable pronouncer ... but now there is a consistent, assumed to be reliable, reference point.”;

Given all this, it might come as a surprise to those who do not know him that Nogelmeier is neither native Hawaiian nor Hawaii-born.

He was born Marvin Nogelmeier in San Francisco, was raised in Minnesota and only found himself in Hawaii by accident in 1972, when he was 18.

He laughs and says, “;I'm a real honest-to-goodness haole, but my heart is filled up with Hawaiian stuff.”;

Write to ”;Kokua Line”; at Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).