"Your call is being answered by Audix." It's a familiar refrain — so familiar that it's practically subliminal. But who is this Audix character anyhow?
Like many great technological innovations of uncertain origin, Audix owes its parentage to Bell Labs. Inspired by the early popularity of telephone- answering machines for the home, Bell Labs technicians wanted to build a similar system for corporate phone networks — one that didn't involve the use of annoying plastic minitapes. After engineers found a way to store the phone messages digitally, AT&T introduced the first system in 1984, dubbing it "Audix," or Audio Information Exchange.
Since that time, the system has been handed off from one AT&T spin- off to another. In October 2000, Lucent forwarded Audix to Avaya, a Basking Ridge, New Jersey - based company that sells communications systems, software, and services.
Today, Avaya claims that there are more than 100 million of its voice-mail boxes in use worldwide. And each one comes preprogrammed with that recorded announcement in the sonorous tone of Lorraine Nelson, 47, a former radio reporter who has played the role of Audrey Audix for many years. She records for both Avaya and its customers who want to put customized messages on their systems. "I try to imagine myself sounding like the nicest secretary in the world," Nelson says. "I know how frustrating it can be when you're told that your password is invalid, and you feel as if you're in voice-mail jail."
Find Lorraine Nelson (www.voicelady.com), or visit Avaya (www.avaya.com), on the Web.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.