BID funded sound system installed along Central Avenue for downtown music

If you’ve wandered down Central Avenue, you may have had the luxury of background music while you shop, dine or just enjoy the fresh air.

That music was coming from an audio system that is now about 15 years old and was starting to fail.

Last week, that system was replaced with a new wireless system that includes 12 new speakers along Central Avenue from the Civic Center to about 7th Street South.

The new system went live on Thursday and music will play daily until about 8 p.m.

Plans for the new sound system got underway earlier this year when Joan Redeen noticed an article in the National Main Street newsletter about a downtown audio system.

Redeen is director of the Business Improvement District, which focuses on maintenance, beautification and stimulating development in the downtown area. The BID is funded by an assessment that property owners in the district vote to impose on themselves.

The article was about an audio system designed by Mike Hooper of AirNetix and it’s the same newsletter than gave Redeen the idea for the pedlet that was so successful at Mighty Mo this summer.

Hooper was in this town last week as his system was installed by Good Vibrations and Sound Pro. The new wireless system cost $30,000, which was funded entirely by the BID, Redeen said.

The new system has a master transmitter and streams radio over the wireless network, Hooper said. Redeen said the BID has subscribed to XM radio and the system will play a variety of music. Holiday music starts on Thanksgiving, she said.

Because it’s a wireless, internet based system, Hooper is able to access it remotely if there are any glitches or to push software upgrades. The speakers and their components are weather tight and rated for -40 degrees to 180 degrees, Hooper said.

Hooper said Great Falls has been spoiled in a way since the city has had a downtown sound system for 15 years. Other cities are just now getting similar systems and Hooper said he loves watching people’s eyes light up when they hear it for the first time.

Most of Hooper’s clients are BIDs and main street programs. The Great Falls system is the first in Montana and the largest so far of the 20 networks he’s installed nationwide, Hooper said.

Feedback from those other towns has been overwhelmingly positive, Hooper said. The downtown sound makes for a better shopping experience and adds a welcoming feel to the area, according to Redeen and news stories on the sound system in other communities.

Right now, the Great Falls system is set up just to play radio, but it has the capacity to be programmed with pre-recorded messages and Redeen said that’s something they are planning to add in the future with a message similar to Mayor Bob Kelly’s welcome that plays in the Great Falls International Airport.