- Bernie Wagenblast’s voice has echoed throughout New York City’s numbered subway lines for years, becoming a staple of the city’s experience.
- Today, Wagenblast, 66, of Cranford, New Jersey, came out as a transgender woman and began to transition socially
- Although she has worked with a speech therapist to develop a more feminine voice, she still plans to use her ‘male voice’ professionally.
‘There is a local 6 train downtown to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall approaching the station.’
Any New Yorker or tourist has heard Bernie Wagenblast’s voice echo across the Big Apple’s numbered subway lines, telling commuters when a train is approaching a station or how far the next line is.
Wagenblast, 66, of Cranford, New Jersey, is a staple of New York City’s subway system, but rarely is a commuter able to put a name or a face to the deep voice displayed across the platform.
Now, Wagenblast — who has also made announcements for the AirTrain at Newark Liberty International Airport and the PATCO system in South Jersey and Philadelphia — has come out as a transgender woman.
She first announced her decision to transition in December 2022. ‘Starting January 1, I plan to start living as a woman full-time,’ Wagenblast said in a social media post at the time.
Although she sounds very different now after seeing a speech therapist to develop her feminine voice – because estrogen doesn’t change the depth of a person’s voice – she admitted on Anna Sale’s podcast Death, Sex, and Money that he still uses his ‘disembodied’ voice professionally.
‘I’ve only been using this voice full-time since January 1,’ Wagenblast, who officially came out on December 28, told Sale. ‘Before that, I was working on it, but most of my conversation was what I call my guy voice, and professionally I still use that voice.’
Wagenblast remembers being as young as four when she began to realize that she felt more for a girl than a boy, she said in her interview.
‘I remember clearly being at my grandmother’s house, sitting in front of her vanity, putting on some of her necklaces, and I think she had powder on her vanity and put it on my face,’ she said.
‘Feels good. It seems natural. Like: “why can’t I do this?:’
She doesn’t remember when it was instilled in her that men shouldn’t enjoy those things, but ‘soon I realized it wasn’t okay.’
While playing with his girl friend, who lived across the street, as a small child, he suggested that they change clothes. After doing so, his friend’s brother told his parents, who then told Wagenblast’s family, who told him again that it was ‘unacceptable.’
She first shared her identity as a transgender woman with a teacher in a nearby town named Paula Grossman, who transferred and was later fired as a teacher for it.
Wagenblast found her information in the phonebook and sent her a letter and later arranged a phone call to a payphone half a mile from her house.
‘We set up a time and I sent him the phone number and he called me and for the first time I shared with someone how I felt and talked to someone who I knew understood what I was feeling.
‘And I have to give him a lot of credit because I was a minor and he was taking risks,’ she said.
He eventually tells his college sweetheart about his identity and their relationship ends after that. The next person he shared it with was his soon-to-be wife.
‘Obviously I was going to ask her to marry me, but I felt that if I was going to do that, she needed to know about this part because I knew at the time it wouldn’t go away, and anyone who gets married has to live with it for some time. extent,’ he said on the podcast.
He took his girlfriend to Liberty State Park in New Jersey and burst into tears, fearing that this was the end of their relationship. Wagenblast’s luck, ‘he told me he loved me.’
‘He told me it was okay that we could deal with it, that it wasn’t the end of our relationship,’ Wagenblast said. At that time, the couple had only been married for a few months. ‘It was better than I expected at the time.’
They would have three children, whom Wagenblast shared his secret with one by one four years ago.
‘All three of my daughters are married, so with each one, we had a separate conversation. My husband and I met with them together and told them about how I always felt about myself and some of the things I was doing, but at the time there were still no plans for me to move or change my appearance, or even at that point, my legal identity or gender,’ she said.
‘It’s just letting them know something I’ve always worked on and want them to know that. I don’t want them to hear this secondhand when something happens to me. I don’t want them to not have the chance to talk to me about it and ask me and really get to know their father on a deeper level.’
Wagenblast would begin to transition into society shortly thereafter, first starting hormone therapy and then buying more androgynous clothes, eventually legally changing her name to Bernadette.
‘I’ve made what I think is a pretty slow but deliberate transition, and I’m going to start changing things here and there,’ he said.
‘One of the first things I did was I went on the lowest possible dose of hormone replacement therapy in the hope that maybe that would be enough, that that would calm me down. And I think the knowledge that I now have estrogen in my bloodstream feels really good.’
Since transitioning, Wagenblast has opted for shoulder-length blonde hair and continues to work on getting her voice higher pitched.
Wagenblast is trying to use her new voice ‘more’ so it ‘becomes more natural,’ but for now, she will continue to use her famous dulcet tone for subway announcements, and did so when asked to record new audio going to Newark’s new airport terminal.
He said it was ‘weird’ recording the new announcements in his ‘guy voice,’ but he found it ‘easier’ now to switch between the two voices.
The MTA – which runs the NYC subway – supported its employee on social media, sharing a link to the podcast on its Instagram account, writing: ‘Meet Bernie Wagenblast! If you ride our numbered subway lines, you’ve probably heard him announce the arrival of your train!’
On his way to record the podcast, Wagenblast ducked into a subway station to ‘hear what it sounds like these days.’
‘I thought it was a bit loud,’ he laughs. ‘But you have to be loud in New York to be heard over all the other noise.’
Wagenblast’s voice was broadcast to the ears of New Yorkers long before they began hearing his voice in the subway tunnels. He began his media career in his early 20s as a radio personality at two big city stations.
‘Not only am I on the air in New York, I’m on two New York stations during drive time, which is the time when most people listen [the] radio. So, it’s a dream come true to be in this kind of a situation,’ he told Sale.
He has wanted to be a broadcaster since the fifth grade and is very happy that he has finally achieved it.
As a child, ‘he would pick up the newspaper and just read it out loud to try to develop that kind of voice.’
As my voice deepened, I accepted it. I know that’s more powerful, and it’s better than having a higher voice,’ she said on the podcast.
When asked if developing her deeper voice worried her, she said that she ‘felt as if unfortunately I had to live as a man all my life’ and that it was best to cultivate a voice that will take him to the job he wants.
‘So doing a deep voice was the best way to go on and do something I wanted to do. And I think it’s in some ways disturbing,’ Wagenblast said.
Although subway announcing and her other professional work would retain her ‘male voice,’ Wagenblast would explore her female voice in her work at Transportation Radio and Cranford Radio.