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T gives music a test run

The roar of subway cars and chords of amateur musicians at the T station will now face competition from Neil Diamond songs, 1970s trivia, and live playoff updates from Fenway Park.

It comes from T-Radio, an experiment that began yesterday at three stations and may someday broadcast on every subway platform in Eastern Massachusetts. Disc jockeys and media personalities will mix in light news, weather, entertainment tips, and the like. If it proves popular enough to go full time, commuters will be subjected to eight to 10 minutes of commercials per hour.

MBTA officials say they want to break up the humdrum experience - some call it peace and quiet - of waiting for a train.

"People are pretty sick of hearing my voice drone on," said Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the MBTA, whose recorded safety warnings have long been the closest thing to official entertainment on the platform.

During yesterday's launch at North Station, he made a halfhearted comparison to the dawning of the MTV era. Then he gave a signal, and T Radio played its first song: "Charlie on the MTA," the 1959 Kingston Trio hit that is the pride of transportation zealots in Greater Boston.

"It could be good, but it could also be obnoxious," said Paul Falconer, a therapist from Salem who was reading on the North Station platform when the music started yesterday. "We have enough noise in our environment."

The volume went up and down erratically in the first few minutes, drowning out conversation. But Grabauskas promised a discreet radio station that would allow people to talk and think if they so choose. He said microphones that will be installed throughout the system can pick up ambient noise levels and adjust the broadcast volume accordingly.

Most sports updates will not come live from the field. But programmer Ed McMann said Friday night's playoff game will be an exception because "we love our Red Sox."

The rest of the play list: top 40, Motown, classic rock, Latin pop. In between, local reporters and personalities, including one reporter from the Globe, will offer celebrity gossip, suggestions for tourists, dining tips, and advice for the weekend.

Programmers are considering enlisting the eclectic group of performers who already play at T station platforms to broadcast systemwide.

But don't expect to hear any news about the state's transportation financing woes or violence on the streets. McMann said the station doesn't have the money for a complete news report, and he does not want a half-baked effort.

Pyramid Radio, owned by former Boston radio station magnate Rich Balsbaugh, is running the pilot program without a contract from the T, Grabauskas said.

If it proves popular during the test run at the North, South, and Airport stations, the MBTA will go through government purchasing procedures to sign a contract, he said.

Grabauskas said he does not know how much profit, if any, the MBTA would reap in the deal. Pyramid radio, started two years ago, has been piping music into Logan International Airport and big box retail stores in recent months.

Students from Emerson College will spend the next couple of months gathering feedback from riders. Riders can also respond at MBTA.com.

Judging from the first day, however, the reviews may be mixed.

"It's great," Paula Welander, 31, said as she boarded a train. "It's not so quiet. There's something to listen to."

But Jessica Grant, an 18-year-old college student, found it "kind of cheesy" for the same reason.

"If I wanted to listen to music, I would take an iPod or a Walkman with me, instead of listening to Top 40," she said.

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.

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