Voicemail woes conjure up caller memories

Published 11:12 pm Saturday, September 22, 2007

The fingers on my right hand have been on vacation for more than a week. I didn’t break any bones or injure any muscles or tendons.

A week ago Friday, this newspaper took a jump back at least 20 years in telephone technology thanks to a small storm that rattled through the area.

As best we can tell the storm was the tail end of the former Hurricane Humberto.

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And after a few quick flickers of the electrical power to our building, it became 1978 again. The power surges electrocuted the computer that had faithfully run our office’s voicemail system since 1999.

The little voicemail system that could was there for us through thick and thin.

It was there through the Y2K scare — in fact it was purchased in 1999 because the old system couldn’t handle the extra two computer digits that the year 2000 forced us to consider.

That little system has heard from thousands of you calling in to ask us questions, let us know about news, purchase ads, tell us when your newspaper got wet and pretty much communicate with us in any and every way.

But on Sept. 14, 2007, at approximately 8:35 a.m., our little computerized helper had had enough.

Interestingly, voicemail systems are strange animals. In our building, the telephone system is digital and replacing it isn’t as easy as running over to Kmart and getting a new answering machine.

As I’ve worked for the last few days without a voicemail system, I almost instinctively look for the glowing red light that normally indicates someone left a message.

The tiny light has been dark for days, yet like Pavlov’s dog, I instinctively still look.

Fortunately, for us, we have a few superstars who work in our front office.

Carlee Reed is our receptionist but she wears a number of hats for us. She’s handled calls the old-fashioned way all week.

Carlee, the talented salespeople in our classified department and our great customer service people in circulation deserve big thanks.

They’ve all done a wonderful job this week in handling calls in the wake of the voicemail system’s demise.

Interestingly, we’ve managed to put out a newspaper, just like people have here since the 1860s, but this week was different.

As I thought back this week on what I miss about voicemail, it’s certainly not the complaints, though I appreciate hearing when we make mistakes, no one likes to make those.

What I miss most from voicemail are the people who call and leave messages. As my mind wandered last week to some of the more interesting calls we receive here, I began thinking of my favorite people who routinely call me.

This year our community lost two people who were regular callers. Each had distinctive voices and unique personalities. Neither ever had to announce themselves as I knew immediately who they were when the first word was heard.

I cannot remember when I first met Suzy Shiplet, but it was probably back in the early 1990s and it probably had to do with a Natchez Little Theatre production.

Shiplet was a friend to this newspaper and to me. She’d call sometimes to express appreciation or to wage a complaint. But regardless the message, I could always recognize her voice, personality and infectious laugh.

Thomas Young, a longtime letter writer would often call and leave messages. I didn’t know Mr. Young all that well, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more polite southern gentleman. Every call was “Mr. Cooper” this and “thank you for your time” that.

Not having voicemail has been a bit of an inconvenience for our staff and certainly for readers trying to reach us.

And, hopefully, we’ll get back to normal — and my fingers can get back to work — later this week when a new phone system is installed.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.