The voice of broadcast veteran Bernie Wagenblast rings out around the city in subway announcements on the numbered lines. To Wagenblast, it's a familiar voice.
"I am used to that voice. I've heard that voice for all of my adult life, so it doesn't phase me to, to do that," Wagenblast said. "I think that's probably unusual for a trans woman to be comfortable with hearing their old voice, so to speak."
Wagenblast is now out as a transgender woman. And she's finding her new voice.
What You Need To Know
- Bernie Wagenblast, a 40-year broadcast veteran, came out recently as a trans woman
- Wagenblast has recorded transit announcements for the MTA and the Port Authority
- Wagenblast said her transition was a "lifelong dream"
“For me, this change is the culmination of a lifelong dream," she said.
For over 40 years, Wagenblast’s voice has rippled through the New York region — reports on traffic for major radio stations and recorded announcements for both the MTA and the Port Authority.
Bernie — her legal name, which was once short for Bernhard, now short for Bernadette — said transitioning was a gradual process that led to her first night out as a woman, at a public event for a hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
"In the past, I've always gone in a jacket and a tie," she said. "That didn't feel very comfortable this time because again, these are people that I know."
Wagenblast said she called a friend who also transitioned to a woman for help getting ready.
"She said, 'Tell you what, come down to my house. I've got a dress that I can give you. I'll do your makeup and you can go as who you really are,'" Wagenblast said. "And I was quite nervous about it."
Wagenblast walked out of the event feeling differently.
"When it finally did happen, it was amazing to experience that for the first time," she said. "So it was, the only way I can describe it is magical."
Wagenblast is a New Jersey native. The 66-year-old talks about her parents encouraging her interest in broadcast and radio.
"They were very supportive of, of me sitting down in the basement and reading the newspaper out loud to practice my voice," she said. But Wagenblast never told them about her desire to transition.
"It was very difficult to, to, to share that kind of information with anybody, even people who loved you," she said. She did, however, confide in the woman she eventually married. They’ve separated since Wagenblast transitioned.
"She understands that I've always been trans, that's been part of my life from my earliest memories," Wagenblast said.
Today, Wagenblast says she feels free to be out in the community she’s always called home.
"When I came out publicly at a meeting in town, I got messages, the police chief, the mayor, the superintendent of schools, the president of the Board of Education and others, all telling me that they support me, that they have my back," she said.
She reached out to the MTA to let officials there know about her transition
"They said, that's fine, we support you. And after the story became more public, I was very pleased to see the MTA share a post on social media saying that, oh, you know, this is Bernie, you can hear her on the numbered subway lines and on the Times Square shuttle," she said. "They were very supportive on their, their post about my coming out."
Wagenblast looks back on her career and legacy as a voice in the subway with pride.
“When it finally was deployed, going into the city down into a subway station and hearing that was amazing to, to hear my voice coming out of the speakers,” she said.
Wagenblast still records new transit messages with what she calls “the guy voice.” But she uses her new voice as a woman for the folks of Cranford, New Jersey, who tune into her podcast.
They’re hearing Bernie as she’s meant to be heard.