Robert Killian speaks as the `Voice of Emory'

"We're sorry. The number you have reached is not in service at Emory University."

Emory staff members who have accidentally dialed out-of-service campus numbers are quite familiar with this recorded message, made by a man popularly known as "The Voice of Emory." Few people, however, know that the owner of that eternally affable yet sober voice is actually Robert Killian, whose official job title of billing specialist in the Telecommunications Department belies the myriad duties he performs.

`We want the voice'

In addition to the recording that callers hear when they dial campus numbers not in service, Killian's voice also can be heard on a number of voice menus (in which callers are given a list of options to access by the touch of a button on their phone), and on messages that are triggered when a number is busy or the main Emory switchboard is full and an operator cannot answer.

Killian also records messages for special campus events such as Special Olympics each May, and voice mail greetings for departments requesting that service, including The Emory Inn and the Hotel/Conference Center. Recently, Killian was not available to record a voice mail greeting for a department that had requested one, and another staff member filled in for him. The next day someone from the department called back and, according to Killian, simply said, "We want the voice." Killian rerecorded the message for the department.

Having people on campus whom he has never met recognize his voice is nothing new for Killian. "That happens to me a lot," he said. "I never thought of my voice as being that distinctive. But whenever I relieve one of our operators, there's always at least one person I talk to who says, `Oh wait, you're the voice of Emory.'"

Becoming the voice of Emory "is nothing that I started out to do," Killian said. "Sometimes when I'm trying to call someone and I get a recording with my voice, it's a little eerie. I think, `Wait, I recognize this person.' But it's nice. We interact a great deal with students when we're doing our long-distance billing, and it's especially nice when they recognize my voice. I think that when they realize that it's the voice of a real person at Emory, they feel more comfortable with the system."

Aside from the duties that go along with being the voice of Emory, Killian also compiles the campus directory (with co-worker Ann King), and handles the billing for long-distance calls and AT&T cards, which includes issuing and monitoring the use of six-digit long-distance codes of faculty, staff and students. These duties include investigating cases of long-distance fraud on campus, which are relatively rare. "Over the course of a year, we might have three or four investigations," he said.

Honing his craft

A former full-time real estate agent who moved to Atlanta with his wife and son in the early 1970s, Killian came to Emory 14 years ago after home mortgage rates skyrocketed and the real estate market went through one of the most difficult periods in recent memory. When he was hired at Emory, Killian planned to stay for six months or so, until the real estate market improved. He ended up liking Emory so much, however, that he stayed on and continued to sell real estate at night and on weekends.

While a soothing, pleasant voice is certainly a plus in real estate sales, Killian perfected his vocal prowess long before he got into real estate. He studied radio in college and was later a teacher and an elementary school principal in St. Louis, where he of course communicated with his school community over the public address system.

"I taught in St. Louis for about three years," Killian said. "As soon as I finished my master's degree, I moved up to being principal in another school district and did that for seven years. It was very exciting. I was responsible for the whole staff, all the teachers, custodians, food service workers and transportation staff. It was very rewarding."

Although leaving the public education field and moving to Georgia signaled the beginning of an entirely new life for Killian and his family, he is still happy two decades later that they made that move, largely because of the people and the work environment at Emory.

"I think that part of the reason I've stayed so long at Emory is that all the people I work with have such great senses of humor," said Killian, who has been known to record humorous voice mail messages for co-workers who ask him to. "It can get really tense when your department is responsible for the entire campus telephone system. So something like that can really lighten the load."

--Dan Treadaway

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