Radios and Taxi Cabs

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - 03:16 PM

Do you remember when riding in a cab in New York often included either an interesting conversation with the driver or a pleasant  listening experience via the car radio? These days it seems to be all about passengers on cellphones and the video screen on the back of the front seat that starts doing its thing the minute the ride begins--whether you like it or not!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find our way back to listening to the radio in cabs? I once had a driver who told me that he actually got better tips when he played WQXR in his cab because the riders were more relaxed and happy. At the very least, there should be a button near the video screen that allows us the choice, right?

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Comments [17]

knolan from WQXR knolan

Edward, please tune in to WQXR on weekday mornings! I do the news at the top of each hour, from 6 to 10 am during Jeff Spurgeon's broadcasts.

Thanks for listening!


May. 18 2010 06:22 PM
roberto from uws

hello midge

i agree ... the videos are an abomination.

i'm not sure from your blog whether you're aware that there are "off" and "mute" buttons on all the videos i've seen. clearly, the beast can be tamed -- at least a bit.

in the meantime, i have my radio at home.


May. 18 2010 04:46 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

I heard Ms Woolsey's reading of my comment this afternoon. Thanks for the response. Nicely edited too to remove the elementary school sentiments - expressed at that level.

Just today a young woman, on entering the cab, asked me what the piece was that was playing on the radio. I could only remember the pianist, not the composer or any other particulars. It was Yundi Li on piano. I told her to note the time so she could check later at the web site. (It was Chopin's Nocturne No.5, Op. 15/2.)

She thought it might have been Rachmaninoff's "Rach 3" and asked me what I thought, somehow thinking I had the faintest idea. :P Remembering Shine I said, "Not difficult enough." She told me that Rachmaninoff's hand could extend to fourteen keys on the keyboard. I told her this reminded me of a segment on the Ken Burns jazz series about a jazz pianist who duplicated a tune he heard on a player piano. It turned out the piano roll was of a four handed piece.

She began to lament about the career opportunities for classical musicians - either a concert wonder or a teacher. I responded that many careers have that quality. Thinking of Hoop Dreams I brought up basketball as an example. She talked about the high cost of developing musical talent, beginning from a very early age. Certainly more than a basketball and sneakers though not so much the sneakers anymore.

As with all fares I wished her a "good day" and we moved on to the next fair encounter.

Bonne journée.

May. 17 2010 07:35 PM
kevin from chelsea

NYC law permits taxi passengers to request a cab radio be turned on or off, its volume adjusted to the passenger's liking, and the specific station to be chosen by the passenger. (Of course, courtesy on the passenger's part is a good idea too; let's not boss cab drivers around too harshly ourselves.) So : when the sound comes up on the screen, press the off button, ask the driver if he wouldn't mind playing QXR, and enjoy the music. -- Or, press the off button and start a nice conversation with him yourself. Let's fight this.

May. 14 2010 02:33 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

For a perspective from the other side of the partition, I often play WQXR while driving. I'm not a big fan of "classical" vocals so when most operas or what I think of as "monk music" is on I'll switch to another station. On weekend afternoons that usually means Jonathan Schwartz, so I guess it's still in the family.

Some recent memories: I had someone who said they taught at Juilliard and thanked me for playing WQXR. She had a cello case with her. On two occasions while Copland's Appalachian Spring (Shaker Melody) was playing passengers wanted to know what the music was. It had that stunning an effect. Another was moved by Radu Lupu's playing of Brahms Piano Intermezzi Op.117, I think it was. Just this week someone asked what the music was when Arvo Pärt's Suma was on. I didn't know and told them the time and how they could look it up on the web site using the date and time. They knew more about classical music than I did (not saying much in that regard) and when the announcer, Naomi Lewin, listed the credits after the music ended they seemed familiar with the composer. I told them it was the CD of the week and therefore a new interpretation.

Regarding the ad screen in cabs, it should be needless to say that I'm no fan of it and I doubt any cab driver is. It's forced advertising, with audio and turning off the sound is not a simple one touch operation, though it can be turned off with a few persistent presses. Since it's advertising you have to realize that entertainment is not a factor. You're a guinea pig not a guest, at least as far as the people who've forced those things into cabs are concerned.

Also, regarding a comment, cab drivers are no longer allowed to use cell phones of any kind, including hands free types. The fine is heavy and repeated offenses result in license revocation.

Oh, when the switch over was made to the new frequency I told many passengers what the station was that they said they enjoyed and what new numbers were.

May. 14 2010 02:25 PM

Hi Midge,

I very seldom take taxis in Manhattan. I live in Queens, so depending on where I'm going in the city, I either drive (I know! I know!) or take the subway. But I do take cabs to and from LaGuardia and JFK. In my experience, the TV that starts "doing its thing" as soon as you settle into your seat is usually in the form of a touch screen. So look closely--you may find an on/off button (or at least a mute button) right on the screen itself. It won't give you classical music, but as someone commented above, sometimes silence is best. It's certainly preferable to a raucous promo for tonight's installment of American Idol.


May. 13 2010 03:01 PM

Hi Midge,

How are you? Oh, the cab drivers and music! I have never heard classical music in a cab, and it would be a welcome sound and I would arrive in a better mood. My experience has been loud, unidentifable music. I would prefer the classical or silence.

Let's start a campaign and request it every time we enter the cab. We could say to the driver. "Hey why haven't you got the most popular radio station tuned in? Do you know what you are missing? Everyone is talking about it"

May. 13 2010 02:13 PM

Denis -

I'm glad to hear that things worked out for you! Classical music would be great in the subway. But, I have to admit that I get a kick out of the live subway performers, too.

Thanks for blogging!


May. 13 2010 02:10 PM

Hi, Cindy -

What a great story and what a classy idea......a car driver who actually asks the passenger for his or her listening preference!

Thank you!


May. 13 2010 02:07 PM
Denis from NYPL

Denis from E21st St., Manhatten
Hi Midge, I do remember as if it were yesterday, but thank God it was over TEN years ago. Loseing my job in advertising and going to NYU at night to become a computer programmer I had to take a job as a NYC yellow cab driver. As an English speaking native New Yorker driving safely yet quickly to my passenger destination in a clean odor free cab with pleasent conversation and classical music playing, I couldn't help but get a nice tip from a very greatfull passenger. I also felt I was improving myself. To support myself and my family I drove for 12 years. Thank God my prayers were answered and I now drive many more passenger to where they have to go in my NYC Subway train. I tell my bosses it would be nice if they played classical music. They agree. PS- Love your voice.

May. 13 2010 01:35 PM
Cindy from Union Square

Nowadays, that regulation plexiglass partition for safety may keep us more secure, but it certainly does discourage the kinds of conversations I can remember had with with cabbies over the years. And, sharing views on music, too. One of my students is a gracious gentleman from West Africa, who owns his own livery car, and chooses not to have anything between him and his passengers in the back seat. Because Doc does a great deal of driving to and from airports around the Metropolitan area, often when riders first step into his car, he will ask, "Sir, it is going to be a long drive. Which would you prefer on the radio: classical or popular music?" Often they will opt for classical. And, since part of driving in New York practically always includes getting stuck in traffic, what do you know? Classical music in the car simply has to lower the stress level. And no, I'm not making this up. Having ridden in from JFK in Doc's car ourselves on more than one occasion, we can attest: Creating a classical 'sound environment' while traveling in your car, taxi, limo or, your own auto is one of the best chill outs we know!! I myself confess to singing along to favorite arias being broadcast, "air conducting" the 1812 overture, plus chiming in on Bizet's "Habanera." Others can keep their easy listening - give us the classics! On the road, and the living room....

May. 13 2010 12:34 PM

Before we get as sophisticated as listening to WQXR, lets start with the basics like a cab driver who speaks English and actually knows how to get to whre you want to go.

May. 13 2010 12:12 PM
Serge ledan from Queens, Ny

Yes, Midge, you are absolutely right but may be it is good to keep in mind that it all depends on who is on the driver's seat. You might as well have to deal with rap music than classical music and I would rather take anything than the former.Unfortunately, classical music is still a delicacy appreciated by the few, most likely to be heard from lonely mountaintops than crowded valleys.

May. 13 2010 10:45 AM

Hi, Edward -

I will pass your comments along to our programming folks. I am especially interested in knowing that you miss the news. And, yes, some of our colleagues have retired. Kevin has not. But, Steve and Clay have. I don't know where James is at this point. He left well over 10 years ago - maybe even 15!

Thanks for taking the time to blog!


May. 13 2010 09:35 AM
Lesley from New Jersey and environs

Sometimes silence is best.

May. 13 2010 09:28 AM
Edward Sonnino

Dear Midge,

Enjoy your program! But why can't we have the news on the hour all day long? Why only after 3PM?!! Kevin Gordon would fit right in as the WQXR news announcer. Has Steve Powers retired? His interaction with Steve Spurgeon was wonderfully witty.

Garrison Keillor is a great addition.

And, it's wonderful to have oldtimers such as Nimet and Steve Sullivan back! What happened to Clayelle Dalfares? And James Irsay?

All the best,


May. 13 2010 12:47 AM
Denise Cavassa, CMA from New York City, NY, USA

What annoys me are that the cab drivers lack manners and are on their cell phones for the entire trip, often not paying attention to directions.

May. 12 2010 04:08 PM

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