20 Years of WRTI in our Subway

GM Bill Johnson continues the tradition of the subway soundtrack. PHOTO/Garett Fadeley

Have you ever stopped to wonder why Cecil B. Moore is the only subway station that broadcasts local radio station music? Most commuters using the SEPTA Broad Street Line at Cecil B. Moore Station are not aware that the source of the platform’s classical and jazz selections—Philly loves its jazz—is just down the street at the WRTI (90.1 FM) headquarters. Maybe you are more curious than others and wondered: who implemented this ongoing tradition within Temple’s main transportation hub? When? Why? 

WRTI’s general manager Bill Johnson explains that his predecessor, Dave Conant, credited the idea to a Temple faculty member by the name of Thomas F. Maxey. As it turns out, Maxey is the one who hired Conant when the station moved out of the Annenberg building’s basement. He brought on Conant, who progressed into the GM until his retirement in 2016. Mr. Johnson took over shortly after in 2017.

Thomas F. Maxey started his career at Temple University in 1996 and retired in 2006. His title as Vice President of enrollment management allowed him to cover matters in the admissions department, the scholarship department and even the financial department. Mr. Maxey recalls the idea of implementing WRTI in the subway (roughly) around the years 1998 or 1999. He shares the credit of the idea with the late and great George Ingram, a notable Temple alumni (he designed the “T” logo) and journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Tom says his inspiration for the idea did not come from research studies about crime and classical music, anti-homeless motivation, or better retention of information—as many Redditors theorized—but rather from the notion that “people forget about Duke Ellington’s “Take the A-Train” for example. 

Mr. Maxey just wanted to listen and enjoy some jazz /classical music and his position allowed him to share this luxury with the community of commuters to and from the subway station. He still remembers the shock from the community of jazz fans when he and Mr. Ingram implemented the switch from all-day jazz to daytime classical music and evening jazz. “Some people in the community thought that it was THEIR station, so when the switch came, we got some push back”. 

Two decades later, you can still count on going down the subway stairs at Cecil B. Moore and Broad Street and hearing either some soothing jazz or peaceful classical music. That is, before the train cars come barrelling by and interrupt the momentary bliss. 

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