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Monday, January 26, 2009

So Who's Responsible for the Ear-Bleeding Hold Music on 311? We Called 311 to Find Out

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Callers to our municipal 311 information line are almost always given solid information from folks headquartered right here in downtown San Francisco (The receptionists at the Comcast call center, incidentally, are in Guadalajara. When I asked one gent if he was in San Francisco, he replied, "I wish.").

We're also treated to transcendentally awful hold music, music that never quite sounds the same but is always hypnotically wretched. It's so bad, in fact, that you strain to hear it so as to better describe exactly how it manages to be so vile. This makes the inevitable, high-decibel announcement about how all the operators are busy an experience every bit as tangibly painful to the eardrum as the music is, intangibly, to the soul.

After this happened for the fourth or fifth time, I couldn't resist the urge to ask the 311 operator who, exactly, was responsible for selecting this music. Now, I am not the first journalist to ask unusual questions to 311 operators -- my colleague Benjamin Wachs recently called the service to ask what the city's budget deficit was; Gavin Newsom did not deign to mention this statistic in his 7.5 hour State of the City YouTube address, but did plug 311 for the better part of 20 minutes.  

The answer Wachs was given was the same one that greeted me: Nobody knew who chose the music. And despite the fact that Newsom appears to think that calling 311 cures cancer and removes back hair, I think I'll take this query a little further. In the coming days, I'll be looking in to who chooses the hold music for our city -- and not just because a recent call to the mayor's office was greeted with a slow, instrumental version of "Love Me Tender."

San Francisco bills itself as a world-class city. We deserve world-class hold music.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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