Taking a 'Talking Street' Cell Phone Tour of Boston

Reporter Audie Cornish of member station WBUR tours the city of Boston with a cell phone guide directing her steps. The "Talking Street" tour incorporates the voice of famous Bostonian and Aerosmith rock 'n' roll frontman Steven Tyler, who gives a guided journey through famous city spots.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

If you want pizzazz, there's Broadway. For fun, there's Disney World. But the eight million tourists who visit Boston each year come in search of history. But maybe you want to skip the guides with ye olde-y accents. There's a new kind of tour in town. From member station WBUR, Audie Cornish reports.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

When you think of Boston, a couple of things probably come to mind: baked beans; say, the Red Sox to start. Tourists and history buffs such as Scott Hamilton, however, think of one thing.

Mr. SCOTT HAMILTON (Tourist and History Buff): The patriots--that's what you think about Boston. Patriots.

CORNISH: Not the football team, of course. More like Paul Revere and Samuel Adams--the patriot, not the beer. But there's another famous Bostonian who's making a name for himself on the historical tour circuit...

(Soundbite of "Walk This Way")

CORNISH: ...Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith. Tyler's the narrator of a new cell phone walking tour of the city. You can dial the Talking Street walk and tour phone number and charge the $6 tour to your credit card or phone service provider. For the next 24 hours, you can dial in to Steven Tyler for a personal guide to the city's major historical sites.

(Soundbite of cell phone tour)

Mr. STEVEN TYLER (Aerosmith): Hey, this is Steven Tyler and welcome to Rebels and Dreamers in Boston. This stop is about gardens that even a rocker can love. Don't worry...

CORNISH: A company called Candide Media Works reportedly came up with the idea of such city guides. Now cell phone audio tours are popping up around the country in cities like Sacramento, Denver and San Antonio. Of course, there are some drawbacks. For instance, cell phone audio can be pretty difficult to hear on a busy city street corner.

(Soundbite of cell phone tour)

Mr. TYLER: And this monument honors the soldiers of America's first all non-volunteer regiment who fought in the Civil War. You may be familiar with the story...

CORNISH: On the other hand, you can circle statues and peer into church bell towers at your leisure, take breaks when you want, or wander off for lunch without missing a thing. That's a big draw for Katherine Miller(ph). She took the tour after she moved here from New York. She says she hates group tours.

Ms. KATHERINE MILLER (Cell Phone Tour User): You get stuck up, you know, with a group of people and you're just with them and you're stuck with them. But I actually thought it was kind of nice because you can move at your own pace.

CORNISH: But Tyler and Talking Street tours are up against decades of touring tradition in the city. There are already half a dozen different Boston trolley tours, each manned by local drivers like Ray Gregson(ph).

Mr. RAY GREGSON (Local Trolly Tour Driver): We got knowledge, uniforms. We look better. The trolleys are cleaner, the windows are able to be seen through. The long--most complete tour of the city. It's the best buy for the money, for sure.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, living historian Gary Gregory is one of dozens of the city's costumed walking tour guides.

Mr. GARY GREGORY (Tour Guide): Would you rather listen to your cell phone or look at a man who's dressed perfectly of the 18th century and historically accurately? I'm the only one that wears buckled shoes, too.

CORNISH: Gregory says he's not worried about competing with rock stars or modern convenience. He says people who come to Boston want their history to live and breathe.

Mr. GREGORY: It makes a big difference for people because when they're talking to me and when we interact, they get the idea that, you know, this person knows what he's talking about and he's dressed like he knows what he's talking about.

CORNISH: But for now, if you can't make the trip out here for the real deal, you can always dial in. Steven Tyler's waiting.

(Soundbite of cell phone tour)

Mr. TYLER: So let me show you my town. As I love to say, walk this way!

(Soundbite of "Walk This Way")

Mr. TYLER: (Singing) Walk this way! Just give me a kiss.

CORNISH: For NPR News, I'm Audie Cornish in Boston.

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