If you’re a frequent tram traveller, you'll be familiar with the warm and perfectly enunciated voice that announces Melbourne's numerous tram stops. The voice announces upcoming stops (“the next stop is Lonsdale Street”) and lets you know you’re leaving the free tram zone (“touch on your Myki to ensure you have a valid ticket”). This voice belongs to Colin Tyrus, a retired Yarra Trams employee and news journalist who recorded announcements for Melbourne’s prolific tram network.
We chatted to him to find out how he got the job, why Melburnians are passionate about pronunciation and if he has the most recognisable voice in Melbourne.
When and how did Yarra Trams choose you to do the recordings?
I was communications manager at Yarra Trams and started that role in 2004. [In that role, I did] all media and public relations and all the rest of the communications activities. The first recordings I did were for the City Circle trams, the free tourist trams. I recorded that in a mate’s recording studio and then later on, some years later, when the technology had improved and advanced to the stage when we could do automated announcements on the rest of the fleet, I progressively recorded the routes. There are over 1,600 tram stops, so by the time you do all the different variations and record them, several times each, it’s quite a lot of work. One of the biggest challenges was to get the pronunciations correct.
Do you remember any particular stop names that were hard to pronounce?
Oh, there’s one called ‘Ievers Street’. It’s spelt ‘Ievers’ but I think pronounced ‘evers’. Then, of course, there’s always the debate in Melbourne over whether you pronounce the ‘t’ in Swanston Street. Well, you do. It’s correct that you do. But we got a lot of complaints from people saying “he’s saying Swanston when it should be Swanson”. Well, I’ve checked and we’ve doubled checked, and it is Swanston with a ‘t’! You do pronounce the ‘t’ in Swanston.
Are you still working with Yarra Trams?
I’m a retiree now. I retired from full-time work three and a half years ago and am now involved in community radio at a couple of community radio stations. My career in broadcasting started in 1976, and this has been quite a journey. My voice has been one of the ways I’ve earned my living. Through journalism, I’ve won two Walkley awards [Ed. note: the Walkley Awards recognise the best in journalism] and shared in a third Walkley award.
What’s it like being the voice of Melbourne’s trams?
To be the voice of Melbourne’s trams is a great honour for me. I just think [the trams are] such an icon of the city. But not only an icon, it’s such a part of a modern mass-transit system that we have in Melbourne, that it’s a very great thing to be able to help people get around. For example, if you’re vision impaired, these voice announcements can help people. Also, people visiting from overseas or interstate, just to help them navigate Melbourne on the tram network is, to me, a great privilege.
Obviously, it’s been kind of an anonymous role, because people don’t know the face behind the voice and that’s probably a good thing. They always reckon that I had a good face for radio [laughs].
Do you ever get recognised?
Yes, a couple of times my voice has been recognised. In fact, someone rang the 3AW breakfast program and was wondering to Ross and John, who host the breakfast program, who was the voice of the tram and there were callers suggesting it was Peter Hitchener. Then someone at 3AW realised that it was actually me as I had worked at 3AW as news director in my journalism career.
Do you love or hate hearing yourself on the trams?
Put it this way, I always get a surprise when I get on and I hear myself. I suppose you never quite get used to the sound of your own voice [laughs]. I’ve read about a million news bulletins and I always think to myself, “gee, every day now I have more listeners than I ever had when I was on radio reading the breakfast news.”
Was it all recorded in one sitting or have you since come back to record updates?
I did them progressively. I have a studio at home, and I’m able to do updates. Like recently, I had to do Marvel Stadium, and other stops have been added or changed. Sometimes when there’s updates I can jump into my little home studio and, of course, with modern digital technology you can simply send it through via email.
Have you ever been stopped by a ticket inspector and gone “don’t you know who I am?”
[Laughs] I would never use my position to get out of paying a fare! I think that everyone needs to pay their way, apart from the great area in the CBD now that is the free tram zone. I even do announcements to remind people that they’re coming to the boundary of the free tram zone. There’s a range of announcements, not just the stop names. We do a lot of announcements about connecting points or interchange points for various routes and I also tell people when they’re coming close to major bus interchanges or train stations.
Did you ever have a voice coach?
I didn’t have a voice coach, but when I started in radio at 3AW in 1976, there were some great broadcasters there and great newsreaders and you tend to learn on the job. Obviously, with the tone of my voice, you do enunciate more, probably, when you do radio announcements or tram announcements, more than you would in general conversation.
You put on your telephone voice.
Yeah. I try to make sure that it’s not too ocker... too Aussie, if you like. I try to make sure it can be understood by visitors from just about any country, and I’ve heard feedback that people say that it’s a kind of mid-Atlantic accent. In other words, it’s a bit placeless. It’s not too plummy, and it’s not too Aussie.
Have you ever been asked to do any more voice work?
I’m also the voice, believe it or not, of the toilets in the V/Line trains.
What does that entail?
When you go to the toilet on the regional trains, an announcement comes on when you enter the toilet reminding you that, “for your privacy, please remember to lock the door”.
Are there any fun perks to being the voice of Yarra Trams? Do you get free travel for life?
None at all! As an employee of PTV, you do get a Myki as part of your job, but that ended when I left Yarra Trams and V/Line. Now I’m just a man of leisure, but I do use public transport a lot. I’d rather catch a train or a tram to go into the city than to drive.
Do you have a favourite line?
I do like the route 96 that goes through to St Kilda via Albert Park. It’s very efficient. Of course, there are the great routes that take you to the fantastic places where you can eat and drink around Melbourne like Fitzroy and Collingwood. And Richmond, along Bridge Road and Swan Street in Richmond, there’s some good shopping to be had. There’s of course routes out as far as Vermont South where you can spend a very pleasant hour or so just taking a tram journey and taking a look around this great city.
Do you have any advice for the next person who does it?
The main thing is to speak with a smile in your voice and learn the pronunciations before you record. People love their own neighbourhoods and they don’t like to hear their street names or tram stop names mispronounced [laughs].