Illuminated Billboards Sign of the Times in Hub

Message to all Bostonians: Do not be alarmed.

The illuminated digital billboards now being installed in some of the city's newest transit stations are harmless. The digital displays are being placed by Clear Channel Communications. The media company won a contract a year ago from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to provide advertising displays as spiffy as the ultra modern space that surrounds them.

One blogger wrote yesterday that the billboards' "weird special effects, like images wrapped around columns" would "send the city into a panic," much as Turner Broadcasting's Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerilla campaign launched a citywide bomb scare and a Dr Pepper promotion went awry when city officials learned a token was buried in one of the Hub's oldest, most historic cemeteries. (Imagine: scavengers trampling 300-year-old gravesites in search of a coin.)

Bernie Toole, sales manager for Clear Channel in Stoneham, Mass., laughs at the assertion that the digital displays would be taken for anything other than what they are. The column-mounted displays are contoured, backlit, thin screens covered in a hard plastic.



The digital displays in particular are a first in Boston, but not in other metropolitan areas where the constantly changing screens are prevalent in airports, on transit systems and in sport and performing arts centers.

A total of 68 backlit, larger format billboards and at least 18 42-inch display screens will be installed in four MBTA Silver Line stations that service Boston's up-and-coming waterfront neighborhood, including the newly opened World Trade Center and Institute of Contemporary Art as well as the remodeled Blue Line station servicing Logan International Airport, and spruced-up South Station, where travelers to and from the Hub board Amtrak trains and major bus lines, Toole says.

Once fully installed and activated, the digital billboards will operate as a single network, with new messages appearing every six seconds. Ads will be interspersed with MBTA announcements to passengers and public service messages, says Toole.

Garelick Farms, one of the Boston area's largest distributors of dairy products, is the first advertiser, opting for what Toole describes as a domination package that will provide it ad space on Clear Channel displays in all transit locales.

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