Monday, March 27, 2006

Apple #158: The Voice of Voice Mail

Some time ago, I signed up for a cable-based voice-over-IP phone service. I went for the whole package: cable TV, cable internet service, and cable phone service. It's quite a good deal, actually, compared to what I was paying for dial-up and long distance. And I haven't experienced any outages or problems. When I pick up the phone to make a call, the dial tone quality sounds like the call I'm about to make will be really scratchy and annoying, but as soon as I start dialing, the scratchiness goes away and it sounds like a regular phone.

With the phone service, I also got voice mail. I have an answering machine, but if I get another call, call waiting will beep, but if I don't click over, that other call gets sent to voice mail. These are a lot of hypotheticals that have to happen. But the other day, it did happen and I investigated my new voice mail system.

Lo and behold, the woman's voice guiding me through the labyrinth of options was one I recognized from past jobs with large corporations. In discussing this with a friend, we wondered if there's one Voice Mail Lady who records all the messages for all the voice mail systems, at least throughout the country.

  • Answer: no. There are lots of Voice Mail Ladies. But they each have done a lot of voice recordings.
  • One woman is named Vicki Kline. She's done the "you're listening to" recordings for radio stations, she provided the voice for kiosks in Toys 'R' Us stores, she's done training videos for companies like Sara Lee and Easy Spirit, and she also provided the voice for Cincinnati Bell Telephone's voice mail system.
    • She lives in Blue Ash, Ohio near Cincinnati, and she is a voice-over actor.
    • She doesn't do character voices, but she does adopt different accents, depending on which part of the country her voice will be used.
    • She typically works from home in her recording studio, while wearing a bathrobe. She records her voice saying various things for one to three hours per day. The rest of the day, she is free to be with her family.

The face of voice mail, Lorraine Nelson
(photo from her website)
  • Lorraine Nelson's voice is probably the one most people have heard. She has provided the voice for Avaya's Audix and Nortel's phone systems. Chances are, at the place where you're working right now, you're using a system made by one of those two companies.
    • Ms. Nelson used to be a jazz deejay and a radio newscaster.
    • Now she runs her own company, Cornerstone Communications, in Portland, OR, whose primary purpose is to record messages using her voice.
    • All sorts of news articles keep saying she's 47, but these articles have been published over the course of many years. Either it's more accurate to say her voice is eternally 47, or I'm going to calculate that as of this date, she is now 52.
    • She says when she records herself saying things for voice mail systems, she is adopting a persona. "I'm not that nice," she says.

The other face of voice mail, Dr. Joan Kenley
(photo from Eagles Talent Connection)
  • Another female voice of voice mail is Dr. Joan Kenley. She has also done recordings for Nortel Networks, specifically for their Meridian and CallPilot systems. She is also the voice in National Semiconductor's talking cash registers, cars, elevators, and other electronic equipment.
    • She is a former actor and since becoming a voice mail lady, has been a celebrity voice three times on The Simpsons.
    • She wrote a book published in 1989 called Whose Body is it Anyway? Smart Alternative and Traditional Health Choices for Your Total Well-Being.
    • Also in 1989, she published a book called Voice Power, about how to improve one's speaking voice and empower one's professional life.
    • She is also a licensed psychologist who specializes in women's health and personal development.
  • Another woman who has recorded voice mail is Marsha Graham. She has provided the voice for Octel Communications' systems since 1991.
    • She used to want to be a singer, but after years of frustration, she started doing voice-over work for commercials.
    • Then she auditioned for the Octel job and was chosen from among 60 finalists.
    • She says she spends hours in her recording studio, working to get just the right inflection or the right mix of professionalism and warmth.
  • Jane Barbe used to be the Time Lady, who said, "At the tone the time will be..." Her voice was also a nearly-ubiquitous voice mail voice in the 1980s and early 1990s.
    • She used to work for Octel (perhaps Marsha Graham took over after she stopped?), and once upon a time recorded messages for Electronic Telecommunications in Atlanta.
    • People sometimes wrote her letters to say they dialed the Time number to listen to her voice when they were lonely.
    • She grew up in Atlanta and learned in drama school at the University of Georgia how to remove regional inflections from her voice. Much later, when she was making recordings for companies across the country, she was asked to adopt many different types of accents.
    • Her voice will be heard no more, as she died of cancer in July of 2003.
  • Many of these women reported that they've often encountered their own voices asking them if they would like to leave a message, or to "press two." Jane Barbe was quoted as saying, "Vocally, I get around."
Patrick Larkin, "The voice heard by thousands," The Cincinnati Post, March 21, 2000
Reed Tucker, "Who's the Voice of Voice Mail?" Fortune, November 26, 2001
Cornerstone Communications, About Us
Joan Kenley, Joan's Info
"What a job! The Voice You Love to Hate," Woman's World, June 3, 1997
Jane Barbe obituary, SouthCoastToday (online edition of The Standard Times), July 28, 2003


  1. Hi Juliet! I thought this one was great. The man who does the voice over for the WB also does the ads for AmSouth Bank (my former employer) so your article was great to read!!!!

  2. Haha, this is funny and interesting.

  3. kool i was searching all day for this lady I WANTED TO KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Using Avaya call recording would help in documenting calls which might be needed later on.


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