Atlanta Subways To Tune In

John Brink looked bored as he stood, skateboard wedged between his legs, waiting for the train. He could use 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 Brink, 39, who has been riding the subway since 1983.

By late spring, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority 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. MARTA stands to make $20 million over the next decade, said David Lane, chief executive officer of The Rail Network.

Lane said he expects Washington and Vancouver, Canada, to follow Atlanta's lead. 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.

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, but no one felt the local news was being foisted upon them. 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 the train station.

Still, 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 his way 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.

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