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Radio Shack's Answering Machine Messages Were Hip To The Times

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Sometimes, someone blogs about something that someone else blogged about, and it leads to an incredible discovery, or in this case, a rediscovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANSWERING MACHINE RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) I can't come to the phone, so leave your name at the tone. And say what you've got to say, and I'll call back right away.

SIEGEL: That's one of the offerings from a cassette called "RadioShack Telephone Answering Machine Outgoing Messages."

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It was the '80s. Answering machines were blowing people's minds.

MARTIN SCHNEIDER: This was a new technology, so the concept of calling people and then not actually getting a person but getting a machine was a new thing. You had to have a message explaining to an incoming caller that they had reached a machine.

CORNISH: Martin Schneider of the website Dangerous Minds stumbled on these audio delights on the blog of WFMU.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANSWERING MACHINE RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) The person who operates me isn't able to communicate with you at the present time. If, however, you leave your name and your number and then the other pertinent data at the tone, my operator will return your call promptly.

SCHNEIDER: I think you can begin to see the quality level that RadioShack was engaging in at this time with this product. I'm hearing Kraftwerk in there somewhere, maybe Devo.

CORNISH: Yeah, I can hear it.

SIEGEL: The Devo influence or Kraftwerk?

CORNISH: Well, both, I guess.

SIEGEL: Yeah. And Schneider points out that RadioShack felt it was important to make sure that its answering machine songs were hip to the times. Here's one called "Rappin."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAPPIN")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Wait. Just wait for the tone if you're going to leave a message for me.

SCHNEIDER: It goes back to a time in the early- to mid-'80s when absolutely everything had to be in a rap format because that was the hot thing on the streets at that moment.

CORNISH: And it wasn't just songs. You could also pick up, at RadioShack, a cassette of impersonator Rich Little to perk up your answering machine message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANSWERING MACHINE RECORDING)

RICH LITTLE: Hey, listen. I don't know what I can tell you. There's nobody here right now, you know? But if you turkeys want to leave your name and your number, I mean, all I can do is pass it on to them, you know what I mean? Of course, if you don't want to, it's no big deal; just don't ever call here again.

SIEGEL: Martin Schneider of the Dangerous Minds website wonders whether RadioShack fully thought through the shelf life of these products.

SCHNEIDER: People hadn't asked themselves the question about hearing this over and over again. If you were one of the five people who was most likely to call a given number, this joke would wear thin after basically the first time you heard it.

CORNISH: But as a prized artifact of the pre-digital, pre-smartphone, pre-RadioShack-bankruptcy age, these cannot and should not be ignored.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANSWERING MACHINE RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) I'm sorry that I missed your call, but you don't have to worry. Just leave your name and number and a message at the tone, and I'll be back with you in a hurry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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