Boston Boots Musicians for Marketing Messages?

I love seeing amazing musicians performing in subways around the United States. When I worked in community radio, I even recruited some for on-air performances. I haven’t been to Boston in close to 10 years, but I remember the music I heard performed on the subways.

Much like BART in the Bay Area, Boston’s MBTA wants is looking to bring in more advertising content to it’s subway, the T-Line, this time though audio broadcasts. We’ve posted here before about why this is – tax cuts are beginning to cripple infrastructure, which sends city government to corporations with hat in hand, usually making deals that sacrifice the commons for a small portion of their deficits. I digress…

The MBTA has launched a pilot program, T-Radio, which would air music, weather, lotto numbers, and, you guessed it, advertising. Their press release states makes it sound pleasant enough:

“This is a great opportunity to provide the customer with up-to-date information in an engaging and entertaining format. Providing news, sports and weather along with service alerts while also promoting destinations that can be accessed via public transportation are just a few of the many features available on T–Radio.”

They also mention they’ve teamed up with an “innovator,” Pyramid Radio. Pyramid is a bit more forward regarding their approach when describing what they do on their website. It’s like muzak, but more manipulative:

Pyramid Radio created customized audio entertainment designed to entertain your customers and drive sales in your store. This give you, the retailer, the opportunity to influence customers inside your store, before they reach the cash register. As a Pyramid Partner you will receive powerful and targeted messaging and branding delivered by the nation’s top radio personalities and sent daily in the latest digital delivery. Music, commercials, and customized jingles are seamlessly integrated. Most importantly, as a Pyramid Partner you will share in the revenue generated by the advertisements which we sell.

Some Boston transit riders are concerned – loosing a vibrant culture of street musicians so your subway experience turns into what it’s like waiting for a movie to begin in most theaters these days; inundated by non-threatening music combined with “seamlessly” integrated promotional messages. What kind of public transit are we headed towards where advertising is inescapable?

The good news is it’s a pilot program and the MBTA is interested in public feedback, so let them know what you think – I did. There are already citizens responding, wanting to support musicians and get rid of T-Radio. T-Radio isn’t fully in place yet, so now is the time to speak up.

And to brighten your day, here’s a video of the Loose Marbles, a band I saw performing in the Union Square subway earlier this year. So great to happen upon…

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