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Thursday
Aug122010

AOL's Got Elwood

"You've Got Mail." Three simple words that helped bring electronic mail to the masses — it could just as easily have been "You've Got Internet." In 2007, USA Today named the phrase one of the top five most memorable quotes of the last quarter-century. But where did it come from and who said it? "You've Got Mail" has got a story of its own.

In 1989, Steve Case, the young CEO of a company by the name of Quantum Computer Services, had the idea to add a human voice to its Quantum Link ("Q-Link" for short), online service. Karen Edwards, a customer service representative at the company, heard Mr. Case discussing the new feature and suggested her husband Elwood — a broadcaster by day — for the job. 

A few days later, Elwood "El" Edwards sat down in his living room and recorded four phrases into a basic cassette deck recorder. Little did he know those seven words — "Welcome," "File's Done," "Goodbye," and yes, "You've Got Mail" — would become synonymous with the Internet revolution. Just a few months later, Quantum became America Online (now Aol.) and Mr. Edwards' low-fi recordings were incorporated into the software. Throughout the last 26 years, his voice has greeted hundreds of millions of users around the world and is still used by the company today.

These days, Mr. Edwards lives in Orrville, Ohio and works as the news, graphics and video editor, and occasional camera operator at Cleveland's WKYC-TV Channel 3 where he's been since 2002. While "El" has spent most of his life in various areas of the broadcast industry, his voice has been in the spotlight a few times outside of AOL. You can hear him in a 2000 episode of The Simpsons, "Little Big Mom," where he plays a virtual doctor that delivers unfortunate medical results with lines like, "You've Got Leprosy."

But The Simpsons weren't the only ones to take advantage of Mr. Edwards' pronunciation humor. In 1995, Wired's AOL forum asked him to record ten unlikely phrases — he happily obliged and laid down a few classic tracks such as "You Want Fries with That?" and "You've Got Credit Card Debt" (listen to all ten here). For a few years Mr. Edwards also had a side business recording custom sound files for AOL users (check out the archived site here).

For more answers to burning questions about the voice of AOL, take a look at comedian Jim Breuer's recent interview with Elwood in the clip below.

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