Their identity is their voice. The information they provide over the public address system, in Tamil, English and Hindi, come as a gospel truth for the passengers.
Though technology has emerged as an alternative, hundreds of thousands of people who come to the airport, railway station or bus terminus rely on their announcements. The changes, however, are rapid.
“Over two decades ago, it was a glamorous job… there was audio and video, but the latter was discontinued,” says Nandini Nandakumar, senior announcer with the Airport Authority of India, at Chennai airport. There are 16 announcers working in shifts of 12 hours each for the AAI. Their workload has increased with the more airlines but even in crises they are trained to handle work from the studio with courage and presence of mind.
“There were only two international flights when I started, now we take care of arrival and departure of 365 flights at Chennai airport and even update them for the digital display system,” says Renuka Selvam, one of the first announcers with AAI, Chennai, with 34 years of experience.
Senior announcer Aruna Venkatesan adds that the best part of the job is that you do not have to carry work home. Most of them finetune their voice by either practising breathing exercises or listening to other announcers at work.
Train ticket examiners, who also work as announcers and timekeepers of MTC, have fewer roles when it comes to lending their voice on the public announcement systems. The Railways has switched over to recorded messages. Generally, departmental announcements or status of special trains, where the data is not fed system, is when they generally pick up the mike.
Officials say the recorded system has eased the difficulty of finding people who know three languages. Announcement is one of the jobs of the ticket examiners.
Giving ticket examiner Krishna Kumar Devanaboyina company in Egmore station are two staff members. Mr. Devanaboyina updates the train display system and knows the working of the station. Officials say a wrong announcement during the initial years is common but it is rectified immediately.
Mr. Devanaboyina recalls how he once got the time conversion wrong after it went on air in Tamil. “I realised the error and immediately corrected it in the English announcement. Presence of mind and concentration are important,” he says.
At MTC, it is the timekeeper who doubles up as announcer. But D. Pandarinathan, timekeeper at T. Nagar bus terminus, says rarely does he make announcements as amid the chaos people prefer coming and enquiring personally.
While most announcers agree it is a job with less pressure, they regret that there is little in terms of innovation and creativity.