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T Radio hits wrong note with riders

Program shelved amid a crush of complaints

Some T riders complained about maudlin Phil Collins music and lame trivia. Others balked at hearing commercials in yet another public space. Then there were commuters who wondered why young guitarists who play live music on the platform were being drowned out by the "radio ga ga" of corporate disc jockeys.

But today, these disparate T riders are united in joy and a degree of quiet. T Radio, the two-week experiment in bringing disc jockeys and music to MBTA platforms, has been shelved.

"There is a God," exclaimed Tom Augello, 45, a multimedia editor from Cambridge.

Augello is still irked about a trip to South Station in which he heard Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight," one of those songs that gets stuck in the subconscious and refuses to leave. "Not just Phil Collins, but somebody really inanely explaining the back story for that song," he added acidly in a phone interview.

Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said the agency may bring back the private radio venture, after a period of study and possibly in a new format.

Pesaturo acknowledged that the T received an overwhelming number of e-mails, 1,800, and that most were complaints about the radio station broadcast at South Station, North Station, and Logan International Airport platforms.

"I can tell you that some customers had favorable things to say," Pesaturo, said. "Many had mixed things to say. Most expressed displeasure with the concept."

Daniel A. Grabauskas, MBTA general manager, had said the trial run would last until at least Thanksgiving, but it was suspended early because of the response, Pesaturo said.

"The end of Torture Radio!" Roslyn Klein said when she heard the news.

Klein, 60, heard T Radio, which aired all hours the trains ran, every morning at South Station on her way in from Lowell. "It's 6:30 in the morning. . . . I really think there is such a thing as noise pollution."

It was insult to the intelligence of commuters, she said, when a disc jockey asked a multiple-choice trivia question about when Bill Clinton was first elected president and gave 1991, 1992 and 1993 as options.

"How difficult is that question to answer?" she sniffed. "Could anyone with a tenth of a brain not know that we have no election in odd-[numbered] years?"

The strongest reaction came from street musicians who have long battled the T for the right to play live music on the platforms. The buskers, who count such luminaries as folk musician Tracy Chapman among their alumni, gathered 1,200 signatures in an online petition.

"Get commercial interests out of my face. Please," one person wrote in the comment section of the petition.

Stephen Baird, a dulcimer player who organized the petition and a website dedicated to opposing the radio broadcast, said that he measured decibel levels at the three stations and that some broadcasts were at twice the normal conversation level.

"The T is a public space," he said. "No one corporation, or not even the T management, can control that space and have a monopoly, because it's not for sale."

But Baird was not ready to declare victory yesterday. "We've been through these battles before and they keep happening," he said.

Pyramid Radio, the private company that runs T Radio, sent a memo yesterday to its partners, which include The Boston Globe, announcing the suspension.

Programmer Ed McMann said in an interview that the "quiet phase" is temporary. He said feedback gathered by Emerson College students who surveyed riders was mostly positive, though he declined to release the findings.

The Boston Globe contributes arts and entertainment material to T Radio, and the newspaper received free promotion on the air. The newspaper is one of about a dozen media partners.

McMann, Baird, and some of the buskers will meet today to discuss possible options to accommodate the musicians in case the radio station returns. He said Pyramid Radio has been seeking ways to let the musicians play without radio competition and opportunities to feature buskers on the broadcast.

"There was a perception that this was displacing them, and it simply wasn't true," McMann said.

Elizabeth Hendricks, a 47-year-old insurance analyst who frequents North Station, yearns for as much quiet as she can get during her commute to and from Malden. And that includes freedom from people using cellphones or iPods blaring loud enough for her to hear.

"I'd rather just read a book and close my eyes and be left in peace," Hendricks said.

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