HAMPDEN, Maine — You may not know Carolyn Hopkins’ name or face, but if you’ve traveled almost anywhere by plane, train or subway, you have heard her cheerful, clear voice telling you what to do and where to go.
Hopkins, who lives in Hampden, is the public address voice of travel hubs all over the world, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, the New York subway and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
She is the English-speaking voice of the Paris Metro, the Incheon International Airport in South Korea and Shanghai Pudong International Airport. The list goes on.
“It is not easy, either in subways or in airports,” she said. “I’m trying to be a help to people while they’re traveling. I’m trying to make it a little easier and a little more friendly.”
Her well-known voice has brought the 67-year-old a fair amount of fame in recent years. She has been written about in The New York Times, heard on National Public Radio and was even named one of the 500 most important people in history, according to Mental Floss Magazine this past December. (Hopkins is No. 349.)
“I think it’s quite bizarre,” said the unassuming, quick-to-laugh Hopkins, who originally was from Louisville, Kentucky. “I wonder, who it was who picked me?”
Fame has not gone to Hopkins’ head, though. She and her husband, the Rev. Marion Hopkins, moved to Hampden in 2002. She does her audio work in her home studio, where she is her own sound engineer. There she records the announcements using her best nondescript Midwestern accent.
“That is the industry standard,” Hopkins said. “Though I have been picking up some Maine here and there. I have to watch it!”
She first became interested in voices and radio as a little girl.
“I got into it because my father had a magnificent, deep voice,” she said. “I loved to listen to it, so I liked doing that kind of thing. I would practice. I would create radio programs, with intros and segues. I did voices. It was a lot of fun.”
Her childhood hobby led to radio work in Louisville, where she wrote jingles, did commercials and whatever else needed to get done. “In radio in the 1970s, we tried anything,” Hopkins said, laughing. “At least once.”
Her voice ability landed her a job at Allen-Martin Productions in Louisville, a full-service audio company. Hardy Martin, one of the owners, was an electronics whiz, she said, and in the early 1980s he became a digital recording pioneer.
He tapped Hopkins, whose voice has tones in it that carry well, to record announcements for stadiums and amusement parks.
“They said, can you do a Disney-like voice — very sexy and thoughtful and friendly,” she recalled, adding she gave her best shot for a recording destined for Walt Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park. “It worked.”
As digital recording caught on, so did Hopkins’ voice, which is now heard in 200 airports around the world — more destinations, she said, than she will ever get to visit.
She records snippets of information that advise travelers about connecting flights, about what to do in case of an emergency and the like. Computers connect the audio takes into announcements to broadcast to travelers.
“It’s all a big jigsaw puzzle,” Hopkins said of the process.
Being the English-speaking voice of transportation around the world definitely has its humorous moments, she said. Once, in Louisville, she was coming home late and found herself stuck on the moving walkway at the airport behind a fellow traveler who would not budge. Her voice came on the public address system, asking travelers to move over so others could pass. She started duplicating the announcement, so the man had Hopkins in stereo asking him to move over. It didn’t work.
“I threw my hands up,” she said, adding she figured the man was having a bad day.
She also gets calls periodically from friends who are happy to hear a familiar voice when far from home.
“‘I heard you in Cleveland! I heard you in Detroit!’” Hopkins said. “I lead an interesting life.”