how to get Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering machine

By popular demand — by which I mean an insistent Jon Herzog — I’m going to give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at being a contestant on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me, the NPR news quiz (responsible for my recent fifteen seconds of fame. We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled library themes soon.

Q: What happens when you call 1-888-waitwait?

A: I have no idea. I emailed them, using instructions on the linked page, which is somehow up despite not being part of their current round of web design, and indeed impossible to find from there. Anyway, I told them the stuff I wanted to know, and nothing happened for a while, and then I got a phone call from assistant producer Emily Ecton asking if I was free on Thursday (I wasn’t, but I said I was, because when Wait, Wait calls you…duh!).

Q: So yeah, how does that whole being on the show thing work?

A: Well, per above, Emily and I chatted a bit on the phone, I presume so she could ensure I had a comprehensible voice and could carry on a conversation without saying anything obviously psychopathic. And she said they had an opening on the Bluff the Listener segment (simultaneous, silent reactions from me: “Woooo yeah awesome!” and “OMG, that’s the hard segment, I’m hosed”). And then she said I needed to wait by a land line phone on Thursday at 7:30 and they’d call, and of course I don’t have a land line phone, which led to hilarious Seeekrit Planning as I obtained the use of a friend’s land line without telling my husband where I was or what I was doing, since the idea was it would be a Christmas surprise for his voice mail. (It can hardly be on our home answering machine when we don’t, per the above, have one.) Anyway, eventually they call, and you listen for a bit to the previous segment (which turned out to be a later segment during the aired version), and then you chat with Peter Sagal.

Q: How do you prepare for a thing like that?

A: You obsess over all sorts of witty and charming conversations you could have, none of which happen because instead he asks you a question you don’t want to answer, and you ignore your final project, also due Thursday, to cram Odds n’ Ends headlines, none of which will turn out to be the story you are asked. (Nota bene to my professor and teammates: I was working hard on my final project all week, yo. Disregard previous sentence.)

My friend whose land line I was borrowing also told me “never trust Charlie Pierce if he mentions Townsend, Wisconsin” and “they love having an excuse to bring on someone with an accent to tell the real story”. Charlie Pierce was on but did not mention Wisconsin, and I (in the crush of post-finals stress + headache) completely forgot her second piece of advice, which turned out to be utterly applicable and correct.

Q: Soooooo how do I hear that message?

A: Can’t help you with that. They’ll be calling me within the next few days to set things up, so I don’t know how it works yet. And I want it to end up on my husband’s voice mail, so you’ll have to call him. I’ve pretty much told him not to answer the phone next week.

Hm. Any other questions?

6 thoughts on “how to get Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering machine

  1. I thought that was you!

    As for the message, you can have Carl Kasell say whatever you want, which is pretty great. I think they send you an mp3 file, though it might be a physical CD. (My girlfriend was on the show a while back and has the best voicemail greeting ever.)

    Also, hi!


    1. Hi! Glad to see you here! Be a shame if the dream team totally lost touch with class over🙂.

      Also, that is awesome that you know stuff about this. (Good for her. Have a link to her show?)


    1. Ah! Well. You can hear me on the Bluff the Listener segment here:

      And it turns out what happens if you win is you send them a message with whatever you want Carl Kasell to say, and after a while you get a CD of him saying it, and you record that as your voicemail greeting. My husband duly chose his message and now you can hear it if you happen to know his phone number.


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