Voice Over Middlebury
With technology comes change. Like, for example, how 50 years ago Middlebury students used pay phones to call home. Then, 25 years later the College installed telephones in every dorm room and billed students for their calls.
Now that 99 percent of Middlebury students have their own cell phones, the hard-wired sets in dorm rooms are a thing of the past.
But one thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is the recorded voice on the other end of the line when you call the main number at Middlebury College: (802) 443-5000.
“Welcome to Middlebury College,” a woman’s voice affirms. “For admissions, press one…” It’s a familiar voice, a friendly voice, one that faculty and staff have heard hundreds of times when they call in for their messages. For others, like prospective students and their parents, it’s a greeting they may be hearing for the first time. But regardless of how many times you have heard it, the voice is always pleasant and reassuring, kind of like speaking with your best friend’s mom.
So who is it? A vocal coach? A local radio announcer? No, it’s Peggy Fischel, the manager of telecommunications services, who is known on campus as the go-to person for telephone operations, but rarely gets recognized as the telephone voice of Middlebury College.
Here’s how it all happened: “When the College purchased its first automated attendant in 1986, a fellow from the development office recorded the original greeting. But when we got direct-inward dialing around 1996, we needed someone to record the new message. It was probably eight or nine o’clock at night when we finally cut over to the new system, so I said, ‘I’ll do it,’ and I recorded the greeting.”
And Fischel has been recording the official telephone greeting ever since – not only for the main College number but also for the computer help desk, the Bread Loaf School of English, admissions, and a host of other departments and services.
“About 10 years ago, [executive vice president] Bob Huth asked me to add some new things to the menu in the 443-5000 greeting, so I said, ‘Bob, do you want me to get a professional to record it?’ and he said, ‘No, no, you’re doing fine. But I have just one piece of advice for you, and that’s to try smiling first.’
“So that’s what I do,” Fischel says. “Before I record every new message, I smile. It’s not that I am laughing or trying to sound jolly, I just smile before I dial, and smiling raises the level of the greeting a little. People should try it before they leave a message because it really works.”
Sometimes Peggy Fischel will look in a mirror too, just to make sure she’s really smiling in her Davis Library office before she records a new message.
Telephone services, which oversees campus phones, printers, and copiers, plus the voicemail, 9-1-1, and emergency notification systems on campus, was also responsible for rounding up the over 2,000 analog telephones from student rooms when the College decided to remove the equipment in the fall of 2009. Originally telephone services tried to recoup some of the revenue it had lost to mobile phones by selling the used equipment, but the market for used landlines proved to be so soft that the College ended up recycling most of the phones instead.
Today, any Middlebury student who wants a hard-wired telephone in a dorm room has to pay a $50 fee for installation. (Students on financial aid can apply to have the fee waived.) And Fischel says it’s a rare occurrence in today’s world of cell phones, Skype, e-mail, text messaging, and all the other forms of electronic communication.
“There are only about 25 students who have our phones in their rooms,” she says, “and the majority of them are international students who need the phones to speak with their families back home.”
But the person who records the greetings heard hundreds of times a day is not discouraged by the shift from landlines to cell phones.
“We have new people calling the College every day, and the first thing they hear is my voice. I always feel good about that because we all know how important is it to make a good first impression. And it’s my job to do it!”
Listen in while Peggy Fischel prepares for a recording.