Posted on September 20, 2020 by Aaron Johnson
You’ve Got Mail: The Voice Behind AOL
America Online celebrated its 35th birthday on May 24, 2020. If you can close your eyes and quickly conjure up the nostalgic sound of AOL dial-up and the iconic “You’ve got mail!” message, then you’re in good company. Whether you were an adult, teen, or kid during this time period, you likely have fond memories of AOL.
For most of us, AOL was our first experience gaining easy access to the world wide web. Although “easy” is a relative term, given the amount of hours wasted sitting in front of a bulky computer monitor, waiting for the running man icon to connect us to our inbox while dial-up screeched and screamed in the background.
Remember arguing with your mom or sibling over whose turn it was to hog the telephone line by logging onto AOL? Back then, Instant Messaging friends or checking email was a revolutionary experience. We couldn’t even imagine the freedom that WiFi would one day bring.
Elwood Edwards is the man behind the legendary AOL voice. His wife Karen worked for Quantum Computer Services, which launched the AOL software in 1985. After overhearing company co-founder Steve Case discuss adding a voice to the program, Karen volunteered her husband’s services. Edwards worked as a voiceover actor for TV commercials, so it made sense that he landed the job.
He originally recorded the simple phrases we’ve all come to know on a cassette tape in his living room: Welcome. You’ve got mail. File’s done. Goodbye.
“I don’t think anyone had any idea what it would become,” Edwards explained on a September 2019 episode of the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz. “Certainly, had I realized it at the time I would now be retired, but I’m not. Even today, I have an AOL account, an email account…When you sign on to that, you still hear me say, ‘You’ve Got Mail.'”
Edwards was paid $200 for lending his voice to the program. Now, he’s retired and sometimes makes extra money as an Uber driver. A few lucky passengers have recognized his voice and posted videos of their interactions with him.
At one time, AOL was our everything. Since then, technology has advanced at such a rapid pace that we forget what a miracle it used to be to simply access an email inbox.
It’s astounding the advances we’ve made since America Online first debuted: WiFi, mobile hotspots, social media, smartphones, apps, Bluetooth, oh my! Also, no one even has landlines anymore.
Society has changed so much since AOL was our primary focus, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our desire to be connected to the world around us. The internet gives us access to communicate with friends in other states, watch videos filmed in other countries, and access everything from science lessons and history archives to celebrity gossip sites and makeup tutorials—all at a rapid pace. Long gone are the days of putting in hours in front of the computer to just read a few emails.
We’ve come so far since Elwood Edwards first uttered, “You’ve got mail.” Who knows what the next 35 years will bring?