The Sound and the Fury

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008

The corner of Seventh and H streets NW may be one of the District's busiest downtown intersections, but a developer thought the corner lacked a certain high-tech something.

A touch of Times Square, perhaps.

Up went three video billboards, hanging over an entrance to the Gallery Place Metro station, adding light, color and sound -- lots of sound -- to a corner otherwise dominated by Chinatown's Gateway Arch.

Cosmopolitan pizzazz had arrived -- that is, if your definition of pizzazz includes hearing AT&T ads play no less than 22 out of 24 hours a day.

"Switch to the network you can trust" intones one jingle .

"Tell someone you love them this Valentine's Day" begins another.

"Look! Daddy sent more pictures" announces a third .

In a symphony of big-city sound -- screaming sirens, clanging garbage trucks, honking horns -- the commercials might go largely unnoticed if they played once in awhile.

But a single ad playing seven times in 10 minutes, as was the rate one recent morning?

Never mind the volume, which appears to wax and wane depending on the time of day. The repetition can be enough to drive its audience nuts.

"They need to switch it up," said Maurice Davis, 54, as he waited for a bus, puffing on a cigarette and glaring at the screens. "It just plays the same thing over and over."

The endless loop inspired another commuter, Adam Russell, 25, to turn up his iPod and later fire off a heart-felt missive to a neighborhood Web site:


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