For more than a decade, the trains ran on time at Denver International Airport with no more than a few bossy reminders from Pete Smythe and Reynelda Muse that "you are delaying the departure of this train." After those two personalities exited Denver (Smythe to his final reward, Muse to work out of state), their voices were replaced with those of the anonymous Alan Roach and Adele Arakawa. And when then-mayor John Hickenlooper added a welcome message to the mix, he didn't even identify himself -- until a few carpers pointed out that it was silly to have the mayor tell travelers where to pick up their bags without mentioning that he was mayor.
Mayor Michael Hancock has not been nearly as reticent, even though there's a $1,500 charge for each new message.two dozen new recordings for the train. He offered a hearty yeehaw to visitors to the National Western Stock Show, wished Missy Franklin good luck before the 2012 Summer Games, and cheered on "the USA's women golfers as they compete in the Solheim Cup at the Colorado Golf Club" last August. That same month, he wished "all the cyclists from around the world a safe and enjoyable journey as they race 600 miles through our beautiful state in the USA Pro Challenge."
Hancock has also made more generic messages extolling Denver's sports teams, its hiking trails, its art museums and its outdoor concerts.
But this summer, he got very specific, recording a warm welcome for the 24-member Republican National Convention's site-selection committee visiting Denver in June. That same month, he recorded an even warmer welcome for the regional confab of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority whose members include Mary Louise Lee, his wife.
And each time Hancock records a new message, it takes another $1,500 from DIA's art budget. That's because the message has to be approved, and recorded, by Jim Green, the man commissioned more than twenty years ago to create "Train Call," the public artwork that covers not just the tinkly train music, but the messages. The artist receives $200 to $400 depending on the time it takes and how many messages are recorded, according to DIA; Green covers his time in the studio, the studio time and his post-production time. The rest of the cost is for Bombardier, which manages the train, for physically changing the message.
And once the train door was cracked opened, the requests for custom messages kept flooding in, like panicked travelers rushing to Concourse B. The requests come in not just through the mayor's office, but "they come to anybody they know at the airport," says Chris Stevens, manager of arts and culture at DIA.
To avoid the crush -- and the drain to his office's budget -- "one of the things we are developing is an actual policy for the train messages," he says.
Stevens recognizes that the messages can be powerful marketing tools -- "It's a great way to welcome people to Colorado," he says -- and that their value has increased. Especially to Green himself, the man whose original contract requires him to make all the recordings. "He didn't realize that it was going to be the cash cow that it's become," laughs Stevens.
Last week Hancock was back, welcoming the USA Pro Challenge to Colorado. But this time, it was a freebie: Stevens listened to Hancock's greeting from last summer and breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that there was no mention of the year, so that the cycling message could be recycled.
Now that the Pro Challenge has rolled out of town, no telling what might replace it. "Requests often come from conventioneers, PR agencies and more," says Hancock spokeswoman Amber Miller. "We also like to get creative and come up with our own ideas."
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