It's a Woman's World in Talking Elevators
It's a Woman's World in Talking Elevators
Jun. 16, 1995
WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (AP) _ Linda DeMartino provides comfort to many people during those brief but vaguely unsettling elevator rides.
She reassures them everything's OK when the elevator is stuck: ``Please do not be alarmed. We are experiencing a temporary power interruption.''
She's the guide that tells them where they're going: ``Fourth Floor.'' ``Going Up.''
DeMartino is the increasingly popular voice inside elevators manufactured by Farmington-based Otis Elevator Co., the world's largest elevator company. She supplies a soothing feminine touch to a role once dominated by men.
``It's kind of like having a little mom in the elevator, saying `Be careful now,''' said the former Otis secretary who was tapped for elevator stardom in 1983.
DeMartino no longer works for Otis, but to maintain continuity in the sound she remains the voice of its female talking elevators. She returns two or three times a year to the studio to record new, personalized messages.
Before DeMartino, almost all talking elevators were male and had a synthesized sound. Male voices had dominated the role, partly because it was difficult to duplicate the female voice with technology that was used years ago.
But technology has improved. And with some help from DeMartino, the female voice has become the choice for those who want their elevators to talk.
Although it doesn't have actual numbers, Otis said about 5 percent of its elevators talk and more than half have female voices. Most can be found at resort hotels, upscale office buildings and medical centers.
``I think it's always much more soothing to hear a female voice than a male voice in a difficult situation,'' said Hubert Hayes, executive director of the National Association of Vertical Transportation Professionals.
But engineers at Otis and other elevator companies offer a variety of other possible explanations for the rise in popularity of female talking elevators.
Some cite the male-dominated construction industry _ men want to hear women's voices, they say _ while others say it is because improvements in technology have allowed companies to better capture the sound of a female voice.
Early Otis talking elevators used mathematical algorithms to compact speech and recreate it. That technology didn't work well with high-pitched female voices, giving them a masculine sound when reproduced.
But new recording hardware that became available in 1983 was better able to duplicate female voices. DeMartino, who was a secretary to one of the research directors at Otis, was asked to try out the new equipment.
``They were really just listening to see how any voice sounded on the equipment, but the new product committee ended up saying, `Who is that? We like the sound of her voice,'' DeMartino said.
She competed with three company outsiders, all with announcing experience, to win the job _ which earned her some extra pay (neither she nor the company would say how much).
DeMartino spent a day in a sound studio, recording a vocabulary of 63 standard elevator messages in eight different intonations so the company could pick the most appropriate sound for each message.
``It had to be both friendly as well as authoritative, but not grating,'' said David Hardenbrook, a principal engineer at Otis who helped choose DeMartino.
DeMartino, who grew up in Indianapolis but has lived in Connecticut for the last 15 years, has a relatively neutral accent suitable for the job. But she had to tone down the sultriness of her voice.
She had to read the lines like an actress _ conveying calm for various emergency messages that tell passengers ``there's nothing to be alarmed about.''
And sounding forceful when telling impatient passengers who abuse the elevator panels, ``You are pressing too many floor buttons.''
Talking elevators enjoyed a short burst of popularity when they hit the market in the early 1980s, but have never really caught on, even though adding a voice system can cost as little as $800.
Schindler Elevator Corp., based outside Lucerne, Switzerland, first introduced voice systems in the early 1980s _ the company was then Westinghouse Corp. _ but many customers asked to have the systems removed within three to six months.
``They asked us to turn it off because passengers did not like it,'' said Lynn Cullen, a spokeswoman for Schindler's North American headquarters in Morristown, N.J.