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From the Roundtable: Get out; Columbia is allowing ads on city buses?

From the Roundtable: Get out; Columbia is allowing ads on city buses?

Al Germond is the host of the "Sunday Morning Roundtable" every Sunday at 8:15 a.m. on KFRU. [email protected]

It’s something so incredible; I wonder where I’ve been all these years.

The news flash: Columbia’s City Council is considering two competitive proposals to allow advertisements on city buses.

There’s no denying the growing acceptance of municipal transit, aided and abetted by the modernization of the buses and the snappy reincarnation of the old Wabash Railroad Station downtown as our transportation center. There are new routes and innovations, fairly well-adhered-to schedules and, despite the recently doubled fare, a continuing increase in the number of users.

Transit advertising is as old as transit itself. Old photographs of horse-pulled vehicles, trolleys, taxis and buses show that advertising was as much a part of the riding experience as being jostled by the crowds. It happened every time I rode the “A” train on New York City’s MTA system, and that was a long time ago.

My first contact with transit advertising was on the IND Line, where I stared at dozens of advertising placards lining the walls of each car. Highlights of subway advertising included photographs of an ongoing beauty pageant, the Miss Subways. The monthly beauty contest sponsored by the Transit Authority competed with the annual Miss Reingold contest sponsored by the Ruppert Brewery. I still could (but I won’t) sing the “My beer is Rheingold the dry beer” jingle with gusto.

What a revolutionary concept, letting advertising penetrate the realm of Columbia’s municipal bus system! Why, you might ask, has it taken Columbia this long to catch up to the rest of the world?

Well, it turns out that advertising used to grace the sides of municipal buses that plied the streets of Columbia. The photo pictured inside this column was scanned from the 1962 Hickman High School yearbook, The Cresset. It shows two of Glenn Watson’s privately owned City Bus Lines vehicles queued up on the west side of North Ninth Street adjacent to the Barth Clothing Company (now Bingham’s).

One of the advertising cards is for McDonalds when, 47 years ago, a hamburger cost only 19 cents. (The snub-nosed vehicle poised for a roaring getaway at the intersection is a Crosley, which was something like the modern Smart car because its main tout was fuel economy — up to 50 miles per gallon. But the story of the Crosley, like the story behind Columbia’s first McDonalds on Highway 40, franchise number 63 or thereabouts, can be told another time.)

Being a pack rat, I’ve more than a dozen well-weathered KFRU bus signs stowed away for safekeeping. I recently found one promoting the once flourishing, but now defunct, local radio station known as KFMZ 98.3, featuring “Columbia’s Best Music.”

The next move should be bus shelters. In some communities, shelters are erected and maintained by third parties who employ them as advertising venues. Painted bus benches could be another revenue source. What really worries me is how long it takes for concepts that have long been in place elsewhere to ford the mighty abysses of the Hinkson and Perche Creek and land on the desks of the decision makers.

Maybe “GetAbout Columbia” should really be “Get Out of Columbia, and Look About.”

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