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Atlanta subways to get TV, radio feeds

By late spring, Atlanta's MARTA will become the first North American subway system to pump television and radio feeds into its rail cars.
/ Source: The Associated Press

John Brink looked bored as he stood on the northbound subway Wednesday, skateboard wedged between his legs.  Removing his shades and adjusting his red bandanna, he said he wouldn't mind a little television or music on his commutes.

"I don't care what it'd be as long as it's not that ... gangsta rap," said the 39-year-old, who has been using the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority trains to get around the city since 1983.

By late spring, MARTA will become the first North American subway to pump television and radio feeds into its rail cars.  Each of its 230 rail cars will be outfitted with 15-inch flat screens that will offer a local television news loop from ABC affiliate, WSB-TV, and transmitters that will offer three formats of on-board music — top 40, jazz and R&B.

In a deal with New York-based media company The Rail Network, MARTA will get a cut of the revenue from the advertising on the televisions and the on-train music channels.  Company CEO David Lane said MARTA stands to make $20 million over the next decade,

Subway riders will be able to pick up the radio feeds and television audio from any FM receiver.  Through the technology Lane created and patented, the software on the train will keep programming fresh.  As the train passes through wireless clouds — ranging in radius from 600 feet to a mile it will detect any new content and download it onto the trains' TVs.

Some patrons said they would prefer to watch ESPN, CNN, or PBS if given a remote control, but no one felt the local news was being foisted upon them.  Many said they watch WSB's newscasts anyway.  Others said they'd welcome any distraction from a boring commute. 

"I like watching that screen over there," said Lee Page, 54, pointing to a digital ticker in a train station reeling off headlines from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  However, Page was skeptical of the MARTA plan. "I think it's a good idea. I just don't think it'll go over. I think people will abuse the system, rip out the monitors."

Studying for a Spanish test on a subway train en route to Georgia State University, P.J. Webb, 22, said most riders will like it, but it may disrupt his studies because he'll want to watch television instead.  "I'm always reading and studying, so it's going to be kind of a distraction," he said.

Sheena Shelby, a 22-year-old blind patron who has been riding MARTA for 12 years, said: "I'm worried it will distract people and they'll miss their stop."

Lane said he expects Washington D.C. and Vancouver, Canada, to follow Atlanta's lead and offer the TVs and music on their trains.  He said he's had discussions with every major transit authority in North America, and his company plans to cater each system's content to the wants of that particular city.  "What we want them to see is something they would see at home," Lane said.

Terry Bell, a 24-year-old student at Clark Atlanta University, said he's more concerned with getting to his job at a department store in north Atlanta than watching television, but he likes the idea of MARTA using the ad revenue to improve its customer service.

Many riders concur, especially Brink, the skateboarder.  "Anything that will make it so they don't have less cops, less buses or higher fares," Brink said.