PHILADELPHIA -- Forget Internet postings, cell phone calls, greeting cards or newspaper classifieds. There's a new way to get your personal message to the whole universe - and perhaps even the afterworld - for less than $25.
Through the use of radio waves that carry voice messages to outer space, a Pennsylvania company is enabling people to launch belated goodbyes to lost loved ones, words of comfort to missing pets or birthday wishes to a family member.
Tafton-based Endless Echoes, which began operation formally this month, allows people to dial a telephone number and record a one-minute voice message. It's then lofted into space via a radio wave transmitted from Germantown, Md., and theoretically travels forever at 186,000 miles per second.
Rosie Pottebaum, 44, of Philadelphia, was one of founder Paul Forte's first test cases earlier this year. Pottebaum sent messages to her father, Arthur Szramoski, who died of a brain tumor in 1972 at 44, and her 21-year-old brother Arthur Szramoski Jr., who died in an accident the same year.
"The whole concept gave me the ability to say goodbye," Pottebaum said.
Endless Echoes has helped a Colorado couple announce the birth of their daughter, a girl in Florida tell her lost dog she was thinking of him and a New York man profess love for his fiancee on Valentine's Day.
Forte, a former radio paging technician, said he got the idea for the service 14 years ago when his grandfather died in Italy and he didn't get a chance to say goodbye. One day, after having worked on a radio tower, the thought came to him to send messages to the universe on radio waves.
"It was almost like my grandfather slapped me in the back of the head and said 'Don't forget that night back in 1989,"' Forte said. In March 2002, he decided to throw everything he had into it - he quit his job and moved from suburban Philadelphia to the Poconos to get started.
Despite first being laughed at by the Federal Communications Commission, he now pays a monthly fee and hitches a ride on radio waves launched by Skycasters LLC, which transmits Internet traffic via satellite.
Since getting business under way June 1, he said he's had about two dozen customers. If the thousands of people who use the International Star Registry to name stars after special someones are any indication, he should see plenty more business.
Ray Fairman was brought to tears after finally getting a chance to say goodbye to an old family friend who died several months ago. After dialing up "Endless Echoes" on his cell phone and sending his message, he said he felt at peace.
"It made me feel really good. It was a great way to have closure," he said.