A Wash­ing­ton Ring­tone Sym­phony

The Washington Post Sunday - - Business -

Do cell­phone ring­tones re­veal any­thing about their own­ers? Maybe they do, and maybe that’s why a lot of of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton avoids the things.

“Please,” of­fered po­lit­i­cal-thriller nov­el­ist Brad Meltzer by e-mail. “Only a fool isn’t on vi­brate at all times. Es­pe­cially in D.C.”

I con­ducted a highly un­sci­en­tific sur­vey over the past few weeks and found that while im­age-con­scious politi­cians gen­er­ally fol­low Meltzer’s line of think­ing, plenty of other prom­i­nent Wash­ing­to­ni­ans do not.

Fox News per­son­al­ity Greta Van Sus­teren’s phone rings to “Hello Dolly” when her sis­ter calls, the “Twi­light Zone” theme song when her brother does, and the William Tell Over­ture when her pro­ducer rings. When her hus­band calls, her phone belts out the “Amer­i­can Band­stand” theme.

There’s a thought process be­hind some of th­ese se­lec­tions. Her pro­ducer gets William Tell when she calls be­cause it’s a ring that sounds ap­pro­pri­ately im­por­tant, and “Hello Dolly” was a song she heard around the house as a kid. As for “Amer­i­can Band­stand,” there’s no real ex­pla­na­tion. “It just makes ev­ery­body who hears it laugh,” she said.

Emil de Cou, as­so­ci­ate con­duc­tor for the Na­tional Sym­phony Orches­tra, hears B.B. King’s “Lu­cille” when­ever he gets a call. The blues­man’s gui­tar licks have, on oc­ca­sion, popped up dur­ing re­hearsals, de Cou ad­mit­ted, when he’s forgotten to turn off the phone’s ringer.

De Cou says his col­league Leonard Slatkin had part of

Stravin­sky’s “Rite of Spring” as his ringer for a while. “It was very strange as a ring­tone,” de Cou said. “It didn’t make you want to pick up the phone.”

Ja­son Cad­dell of the lo­cal indie band Dis­mem­ber­ment Plan, which re­united this week­end for a ben­e­fit gig, has a few ring­tones se­lected as private jokes with his friends. There’s Du­ran Du­ran’s “Rio,” Moun­tain’s “Mis­sis­sippi Queen” and Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky.” But most of the time, he said, his phone is set to vi­brate.

My calls to Wash­ing­ton politi­cos didn’t turn up as much.

Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign team de­clined to look into the mat­ter, and Sen. Barack Obama’s team didn’t re­spond, though I did wind up on the “Obama for Amer­ica” e-mail list. Rudy Gi­u­liani’s peo­ple say he has some nor­mal de­fault ringer on his phone — they know this be­cause it went off by ac­ci­dent while he was giv­ing a speech Tues­day.

Also, in case you ever won­dered: The White House says the pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent do not carry cell­phones.

In lob­by­ing cir­cles, the chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, Mitch Bain­wol, has a song by “Amer­i­can Idol” fi­nal­ist Chris Daugh­try: “It’s Not Over.”

As the record­ing in­dus­try has be­gun to look at ring­tones as a fresh source of rev­enue, it has started to give gold and plat­inum awards for best­sellers. Last week’s No. 1 track on the Bill­board ring­tones chart was “Pop­pin’ ” by Chris Brown, a young R&B singer from Vir­ginia. We checked with Brown’s man­ager and — you guessed it — that’s the same tune that plays on the singer’s phone when he gets a call.

In the sports world, Na­tion­als Man­ager Manny Acta has the “Law & Or­der” theme — he’s a fan of the show. D.C. United player Bobby Boswell has a “Satur­day Night Live” ring­tone ofWill Fer­rell do­ing his Robert Goulet im­per­son­ation.

Wiz­ards player Caron But­ler has the James Bond theme song be­cause James is his given first name. They call Gil­bert Are­nas “Agent Zero” af­ter all — “and I’m dou­ble-o-seven,” But­ler said.

As it turns out, chefs are big ring­tones cus­tomers — they have to stay in reg­u­lar con­tact with their dis­trib­u­tors, and hav­ing an un­usual ringer helps them avoid wast­ing time by fum­bling around for their phone ev­ery time some­body gets a call.

That’s why Rod­ney Scruggs, ex­ec­u­tive chef at the Oc­ci­den­tal, has Blink 182’s “I Miss You” and chef Her­bert Ker­schbaumer of Jack’s Restau­rant & Bar, in Dupont Cir­cle, has a bark­ing dog — a record­ing of the Ger­man shep­herd for which the restau­rant is named.

When Joe Raffa, the chef at José An­drés’s new restau­rant, gets a call from his wife, his phone plays the Auburn fight song be­cause she’s an alumna and a die-hard fan of the school’s team. Raffa was raised in Hawaii, so when his mom calls, it plays a Hawai­ian slack-key gui­tar song. When­ever any­one else calls, the de­fault ring is the “Im­pe­rial March” from “Star Wars,” also known as Darth Vader’s theme. “It’s sort of ap­pro­pri­ate for a kitchen,” he said.

This be­ing the Busi­ness sec­tion of the pa­per, I also called a few busi­ness types. The chief ex­ec­u­tive of Sprint Nex­tel didn’t get back to me, nor did World Bank Pres­i­dent Paul D. Wol­fowitz. Caps owner and AOL vice chair­man Ted Leon­sis doesn’t have a ring­tone.

Van Sus­teren ad­mits to a sort of ju­ve­nile game she plays with a cou­ple of her on-air brethren, CNN cor­re­spon­dents Ed Henry and Bob Franken. When­ever she sees them on the air, she calls them in the hope of hear­ing their phones ring — and when she’s do­ing her show, they do the same to her.

There’s a steak din­ner rid­ing on this for Henry: Whoever loses and gets busted for hav­ing left the ringer on, buys.

There has only been one close call so far, so to speak. Henry might have caught Van Sus­teren flinch­ing in re­sponse to a call he placed when she was on the air and when her phone might have been set to vi­brate.

No mat­ter, she says. “Ed Henry’s go­ing to lose this bet,” she said. “He’s feel­ing bold and brash right now — I’m try­ing to make him feel com­fort­able and sloppy. I will get him.” Thanks to Wash­ing­ton Post staff writ­ers J. Free­dom du Lac, John Solomon and Dan Stein­berg for their help in track­ing down a cou­ple of th­ese ring­tones.


As­so­ci­ate con­duc­tor Emil de Cou of the Na­tional Sym­phony Orches­tra hears blues­man B.B. King’s gui­tar licks when his cell­phone rings.

Greta Van Sus­teren’s cell­phone plays the William Tell Over­ture when her pro­ducer calls.

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