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Daily Herald

Ride Metra? Then you've heard him
Meet the guy behind the announcements

By Joseph Ryan
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Monday, June 12, 2006

You've heard the voice before.

He says, "The next stop is Arlington Park," and "Now approaching
Arlington Park." And every once in a while, he says, "Please pay attention
to the emergency exits."

He says it over and over and over again, to hundreds of thousands of
Metra riders.

"Can you imagine all the people who are irritated and tired of hearing
me?" says Don Nelson, reflecting on his vocal celebrity as Metra's automated
announcement guy.

Many train riders probably picture a tall, handsome man with a
razor-sharp jaw line and passion for etiquette.

Not so, Nelson jokes.

"I get that a lot," he laughs.

A boisterous train manager who started with Metra in 1993, Nelson is
full of wisecracks but gets serious when it comes to train safety. He warmly
recalls his radio days spinning AC/DC and Journey tunes in central Illinois.
He has worked for an alphabet soup of FM and AM stations in Chicago and
Indiana. For a time he was Shadow Traffic's helicopter guy, and he once
worked for a satellite system that reached 300 stations nationwide.
Occasionally, he still plays discs for The Loop - WLUP 97.9- FM - late at

His bosses tapped into his vocal skills in 2001 and asked him to lay
down the tracks for the automated announcements Metra riders hear.

We caught up with him recently to ask about what it's like to be so
familiar and anonymous at the same time. Here is an edited transcript of the

Q. Have friends or relatives ever noticed it was your voice they were
hearing on Metra trains?

A. When I first did this, I didn't really tell anybody.

There were a couple guys I worked with at The Loop who commuted every
day. They never noticed.

Then one time I was on the train with a buddy of mine from The Loop,
and the conductor knew it was me (on the announcement), and told my friend.

It was funny. This jock I know and work with goes "Nooo," and then he
listens again and goes "Oh, man." (laughter)

I took my dad on the train one time - I didn't mention anything to
him - he was dying of cancer, and I took him on a little round trip.

We are making all these stops and there is my voice in the background,
and as we get out of Downers Grove, the conductor - who knew it was me on
the announcement - says to my father "What do you think?"

My dad says, "Well, it's a nice ride."

And the conductor says, "No, what do you think (about your son's

My dad didn't even know. He said "Man, no kidding." I guess my dad was
a little hard of hearing.

Q. What's the general reaction when people realize it is you?

A. It's weird, even in radio, when you meet people in public and
people have this image of you from what they hear.

That is why I'm nervous about pictures (he says to the Daily Herald
photographer, laughing).

They see you and say, "Wow you don't look anything like what I
pictured!" And I say, "Well, sorry."

The women just walk away, and I say, "You should have seen me when I
was younger - I was even uglier."

Q. What is your favorite Metra line?

A. "Please pay attention to the emergency exits. Each car is equipped
with two emergency exits." No, I'm kidding.

My least favorite is "This train is now running - one - minute late."
(He changes his voice for "one" to imitate the split-recorded sound heard on
the train.) Why do we do that?

It is just the way it has to be, though.

When I first did (the tracks), I wanted to do certain phrases. But we
couldn't because there is so much information that has to be downloaded,
they have to put it in pieces and then it is all fused together.

So, I may say Edison Park, Arlington Park, Park Ridge differently,
because how the computer reads it is Edison and then Park, put together, and
then Park and Ridge are put together.

Q. What do you do in your regular Metra job?

A. I'm a corporate trainmaster. After all these years, we are still
trying to figure that out. (laughter)

No. Every railroad has train managers. It is like a mid-management
position. Any time something goes wrong, we are out there to move trains

I hate to be morbid. When you have someone that does something foolish
and steps in front of the train or something like that, our job is to work
with the police and fire on the scene.

I kind of get choked up on some of this stuff. You have no idea how
someone's indiscretion will affect someone's life so directly. I'm talking
about the guy in the (train) cab and the crew on the train.

You see some of that stuff and it is not pretty . the guys that run
the trains, you see that and there is nothing you can do. You can't steer
out of the way. It is insane.