How about … silence?

I don’t think you have to be a musician for it to drive you crazy … that God-awful music they play while you’re on hold trying to make a phone call. The music comes in two varieties: awful and both awful and cheap. The really cheap stuff is music you hear most often simply because the company you’re calling has to pay mere pennies. It’s called “looped.” Looped music can be produced in seconds on any keyboard computer. Stop by my house sometime and I’ll “write” your very own looped music. The score plays 24 bars, then “loops” to repeat itself. This is the stuff that’s truly unbearable, and when you sit there waiting to ask about your phone bill or see if your prescription is done and you ask yourself, “Didn’t I just hear this?” the answer yes, you have … and yes, you will again in about 20 seconds.

The simply irritating music is sometimes real music played by real musicians, but you actually have to pay for this stuff so we’ll be hearing it less and less while on hold. Of course when you hear Aretha Franklin’s, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what that means to me!” through a half-inch speaker on your phone it comes our “RS-kkkk-C-T. Fie ow wha da me twome!” and some recording engineer in Motown is gritting his teeth.

These mini concerts from hell are interrupted by, “Please hold while you wait for the next available operator.” Translation: we only have one girl working the phone this afternoon. Or perhaps, “Your phone call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available technician.” Translation: Okay, we were kidding. Your call really isn’t that important or we would have hired more help.

And who can argue with the sheer entertainment value of sitting for 30 minutes listing to advertisements for the company you’re calling? It’s such a delight to call in about your lousy phone service, and then listen to a litany of ads telling you how their phone service is so great. If you want to put an ad on Facebook, you pay big bucks, but if your firm has a recording device you can bore your customers with an encyclopedia of free ads. And has it ever occurred to you that perhaps you’re put on hold just so they can upsell you on other products?

When I called a Chicago theater for tickets many years ago, they put me on hold but they played songs from upcoming shows. Okay, I can deal with that. The St. Louis Symphony seldom puts you on hold, but when I called several years ago, they soothed my soul with Mozart while waiting. I can take Mozart, even through a tiny, tinny speaker. An improv theater in St. Louis uses a recording of a local comic doing a monologue about how irritating it is to be put on hold. Yes, these things are looped so you always come in mid-symphony or sketch, but it beats the heck out of, “Hey! How about upgrading your cable service in our All-Star Package Program!” Update yourself, Bubba. I just want a human voice.

A suggestion: How about greatest voices from the past? They’re mostly beyond copyright protection and would even enrich our lives a bit while we wait for the next available foreign operator with just a small knowledge of English. Former Illinois Senator Everett Dirkson owned one of the most sonorous set of vocal chords to ever bless our nation. I’d gladly take a dose of Senator Ev reading the preamble to the Constitution or “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” while waiting for my prescription to be filled. How about the soothing tones of Meryl Streep reading from practically anything? Meryl could open a page of the Jacksonville phone book and mesmerize me. Calling any local doctor’s office and being put on hold while listening to an old recording of Jerry Symons and Ron Tendick calling a game of the Winchester Tournament on WLDS … man, I’d keep calling back, hoping to be put on hold. Robert Frost reciting his “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” or Carl Sandburg doing his great “Chicago! Hog Butcher for the World! Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders!” … now, that would make any wait worth its weight. I once heard actor Sam Waterston, the lawyer on “Law & Order,” read the Gettysburg Address. Wowsers. That’d be enough to make me call in another prescription. Heck, I’d even settle for former lakes, parks and jokes commissioner Bruce Surratt trying to explain what he did last night.

And this may sound crazy, but how about replacing the loops, the scratchy Motown, the endless ads and promos with … the sounds of silence (?) … my old friend … I yearn to talk with you again.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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