In Memoriam: Jane Barbe
Jane Barbe--whose voice was instantly recognizable to every telephone user who ever dialed a wrong number, called a number no longer in service or simply sought to find out the current time and temperature--died July 18 in Roswell, Ga., of complications from cancer. She was 74 years old.
Known unofficially as “The Telephone Lady,” Barbe’s voice was once heard an estimated 40 million times per day on telco networks across the globe, with her distinctive and friendly voice gracing some 90% of intercept messages and 60% of automated time and temperature calling programs. “I'm sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service” and “Please press ‘1’ for more options” were just two of Barbe’s most commonly replayed messages.
Barbe was born in Florida and raised in Atlanta, studying drama at the University of Georgia. After graduation she was hired as a vocalist with the Buddy Morrow Orchestra, meeting future husband John Barbe, the band's musical arranger, while on tour. The Barbes later went into business for themselves, creating and producing music for radio and television commercials and industrial films.
Barbe began her telecom career in 1963 with Atlanta-based voicemail pioneer Audichron (which was acquired by Electronic Tele-Communications in 1989), announcing time, temperature and weather information in addition to recording personalized announcements for financial institutions and other sponsors. Over the ensuing decades, as more and more carriers licensed her recordings for use on their networks, Barbe earned enough international fame that she appeared on television’s “Mike Douglas Show,” “I've Got a Secret” and “Real People” as “The Time Lady.” She even starred in a commercial for Shake 'n Bake.
Although Barbe spoke with a Southern twang in everyday conversation, she developed an unaccented American voice for her voiceover work. Each new job brought with it specific demands, however--when telephone officials Down Under requested she adopt an Australian accent to record their time and temperature messages, she spent weeks in preparation, listening to recordings of Australian conversation.
Barbe also understood that her ubiquitous presence was sometimes a source of hostility: “I know people get frustrated sometimes at the sound of my voice,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992. “One day I heard my own mother in the other room bang down the phone and say, ‘Oh, shut up, Jane!’”
After 40 years as the voice of ETC’s time-weather-temperature services, Barbe retired in February 2003. Real Audio clips of her vintage intercept message recordings are available on the Web at www.dmine.com/phworld/sounds/misc.htm.
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