Some 88% of business phone calls don't get through to the desired parties. That's because many of those being called aren't there. (See chart.) For someone who's out of the office a lot, one solution is a personal pager. But, please -- not the abrasive beep-beep-beeper of old. The latest in pocket-size communication not only plays a tune or silently vibrates when you're wanted; it also says who's calling and why.

Sporting liquid-crystal-display screens showing 80 characters of text and numbers, pagers using the 10-year-old alphanumeric technology have been relatively expensive. But prices are dropping fast. Down from about $38 a month in 1990, a typical alphanumeric-pager-leasing arrangement with a paging company (essentially, a phone-answering service with a radio-paging facility) now costs less than $19 a month. And if you own the pager outright (a basic alphanumeric receiver costs around $200), the monthly fee for transmitting messages to it is as low as $16. Digital paging still is cheaper, at $10 a month or so. But there are hidden costs: a digital pager's scrimpy display shows just the caller's number, so the pagee must return every call. While an alphanumeric message must be dictated to a special operator for keyboard transcription, the information it imparts usually obviates the need for reply. For example: NO ROOM ON 10 AM FLIGHT SO BOOKED YOU ON 1:45. Some paging companies broadcast brief general-interest messages. For example: CUBS 9 METS 4.

For literature describing alphanumeric receivers, call Motorola at 800-247-2346, or NEC America at 800-421-2141. See the yellow pages for paging services.

Using dedicated systems or PC software, a desktop computer can transcribe its own alphanumeric messages, then relay them to a broadcaster over a modem. Some software entrants:

Quikpager, $539 (including peripherals); from Canamex Communications, in Ontario, Canada

AlphaPage, $139; from Information Radio Technology, in Cleveland

Notify!, $149; from Ex Machina, in New York City

WinBEEP, $149; from Fourth Wave Technologies/USConnect, in Troy, Mich.

PcPage and McPage, $249 each; from Metriplex, in Cambridge, Mass.

* * *

Why Phone Calls Don't Get Through

Few dialed-up parties actually answer. Here's what workers are doing (or where they are) when a call comes in.

Out of the office 37%

Already on the phone 18

In a meeting 14

Not to be interrupted 13

At their desks 12

Other 6

Source: Sam LoBue, Message Processing Systems, 1993.

* * *