Signal to noise ratio.

The MBTA has “deemed nonacoustic music a hazard in T stations.” Starting December 1st, Boston’s subway musicians will no longer be able to play electric guitars, keyboards, saxophones, trumpets, or horns of any kind, nor will they be permitted to use microphones or amplifiers. Why? Such music may drown out the important messages which are played on the PA system.
Aside from the fact that this is clearly overkill — is it really necessary for subway musicians to follow a dress code and wear photo ID badges at all times, or is this just post-9/11-reactionary crap? — there is a clear hole in the MBTA’s argument which the article fails to mention. T officials assume that people are able to understand the announcements in a quiet station. This is decidedly not the case. Every time I have heard an announcement over the T loudspeakers, it’s been completely incomprehensible. The speech is invariably garbled due, as far as I can tell, to poor sound quality, bad speakers, or the announcer trying to swallow the microphone, and the T employees making the announcements seem incapable of proper enunciation, speaking both quickly and without clarity. Furthermore, the poor acoustics of T stations — basically long cement spaces with nothing to prevent sound waves from bouncing all over the place — generally make for echoes and reverberations which further obfuscate an already indecipherable message.
The point is that you can’t hear the messages to begin with. I have recently stood in the Kendall/MIT station with no sounds but the quiet conversations of those around me and listened to a PA message that sounded something like:

static static static delay static static service static static static thank you static

After the message finished, I looked around me to see if anyone else had, by some miracle, been able to decipher what was said. But all I saw was similar confusion; a woman standing nearby asked me, “Did you make that out?”
I shook my head.
Luckily for us, the number of people who had accumulated on the platform suggested that the message was meant to inform us of a delay in service. Like we hadn’t figured that out after a fifteen-minute wait for a midday Red Line train.
Perhaps the MBTA should take the time to install a quality PA system and train their staff on proper microphone use and diction before kicking half the subway musicians in this city out in the cold. I, for one, would rather listen to music. I’m not sure I’m into this industrial/noise stuff.
Clearly the message is just not getting through.


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