AS WE enter the new world of communications, the telephone company is firing more and more live operators and replacing them with recorded announcements.
It's now so bad that a person considers himself lucky if he is still speaking to a warm body. What the public doesn't know is that the telephone company takes great care in selecting the women to do their recorded announcements. Since their voices will remain on computer tapes forever, the phone executives can't afford to miscast someone for the part.
I attended an audition for a new voice to represent one of the principal retail outlets. It was held in a large theater on Broadway. There must have been 150 hopefuls waiting to try out.
On stage were blondes, brunettes and redheads, dressed in everything from dirndl skirts to leather pants. Many were warming up their voices with arias from "Aida." Others were kicking their legs in the air, and still others were seated on their chairs shaking with fright.
The director Cam Funkhouser came out on stage and said, "I'm glad that you could all come. What we're looking for today is someone who can handle long-distance as well as wrong-number calls. Ever since we've changed the area codes, customers have been making stupid mistakes. Your voice has to keep them on track, not only by informing them that they made an error, but also by making sure that they don't do it again.
"Now, this is the kind of situation you have to react to. A girl in college is calling her parents collect. She's desperate because she has run out of funds and has lost her dog all in the same day. At this moment she wants to hear a compassionate voice she can trust, and one that sounds as if the phone company gives a damn. Most of all she wants to hear, 'Thank you for using AT&T.' Okay, I'm going into the orchestra seats, so belt it out."
Cam sat next to me. A girl came up to the microphone, her hands on her hips. Winking at Funkhouser she said, "Thank you for using AT&T."
"No, no, no," Cam shouted. "You're not inviting a guy up to your place for the evening. Thank you very much."
The next young woman was quivering. She said something, but we couldn't understand a word.
"We can't hear you," Cam yelled. "Your voice is going to go to pTC Tokyo and Zambia. If we can't hear you in the orchestra, how can they hear you in Sydney, Australia? We'll call you."
A lady in black leotards came forward and started dancing.
"What are you doing?"
"I can say more with my body than with my voice."
We listened to almost all the contestants, and Cam was about to give up when a girl in an ankle-length peasant dress and a straw hat stepped forward. Without a pause, she stretched out her arms and belted out, "Thank you for using AT&T."
Cam jumped out of his seat. "By Jove, she's got it. I believe she's got it." Then he grabbed me and started to dance in the aisle. "The phone of Cohen is mainly made of chrome. Made of chrome, made of chrome, Cohen's phone is made of chrome."
Cam ran up onto the stage and told her, "Repeat after me, 'We're sorry, but you must press one before calling your number.' "
She did it. Funkhouser hugged her and said, "Baby, Ma Bell is going to make you a star."