Portugal. The Man is seen in a 2017 photo provided by Atlantic Records. The band from Alaska has allowed the state of Alaska to use their music as hold music for the state’s telephone systems. (Courtesy photo)

Portugal. The Man is seen in a 2017 photo provided by Atlantic Records. The band from Alaska has allowed the state of Alaska to use their music as hold music for the state’s telephone systems. (Courtesy photo)

State phone lines will feature Portugal. The Man as hold music

Grammy-winning Alaska band’s music is among five songs chosen for state phone system

You’ll hear it still.

Portugal. The Man’s Grammy award-winning single “Feel It Still” was named Monday as one of five songs that will replace the state of Alaska’s existing telephone hold music by the end of the year.

The announcement at the Alaska State Council on the Arts conference in Anchorage comes after a three-year project begun by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka and curated by KXLL-FM’s Annie Bartholomew.

“It should be a great platform for Alaska musicians,” Kreiss-Tomkins said by phone.

The four other songs on the set list include “Flicker of Light” by Whiskey Class, “Mother Carries” by Harm, “Bluebird” by Feeding Frenzy and “Shaax’ Sáani” by the Native Jazz Quartet.

[Listen to the songs here]

Chris White, the state’s chief technology officer, said there were some technical and legal hurdles to surmount — the state needed to make sure it had an ASCAP license to play music — but now that a system is in place, “If we wanted to change out the soundtrack a couple times a year, absolutely we could do it, now that we’re set up.”

The cost was less than $2,500 for his department, not counting the time needed to reconfigure equipment for the state’s voice-over-IP phone system. The arts council funded the selection process through its own grants, and GCI provided both money and expertise.

“We’re really excited that it’s about to go live,” said Ben Brown, chairman of the arts council.

Kreiss-Tomkins regularly seeks ways to publicize the work of Alaska artists. In 2016, he sponsored legislation that created a license-plate design contest. He’s since promoted the concept of locally designed manhole covers.

As he explains it, he was on hold in fall 2015 when he was struck by how awful the state’s telephone hold music is.

“The Muzak makes me want to pull out the hair I don’t have on my head,” said Kreiss-Tomkins.

He thought of alternatives and considered the approach of Alaska’s public radio stations.

“When you call a public radio station, they often patch through a live feed of the radio, and I always thought that was a real nice touch,” he said.

He began working with the Alaska Department of Administration, which handles the phone system, and GCI, which is the state’s telecom contractor.

The project moved slowly: Bartholomew wasn’t selected as the curator of the project until December 2016. She said a lot of her original ideas ran afoul of licensing problems because the rights to the music weren’t available.

“Now that we’re kind of at the end of the project, I wonder if we should have just considered someone to commission instrumental music because that would have been a lot easier,” she said Tuesday by phone.

In May, with the project nearing an end, Kreiss-Tomkins met with representatives of the governor’s office at Saffron, the downtown Juneau restaurant, and over Indian food, they decided to get ambitious with the project and try to get permission from Portugal. The Man to use their music.

It was easier than navigating state bureaucracy. By July, the band had agreed to donate the use of their music to the state.

“Even though Portugal. The Man donated it, we had to make sure we had the proper licensing, and we do,” said Department of Administration Commissioner Leslie Ridle.

This isn’t the first time the state has tried such a project. In 2009, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council commissioned the “Alaska On Hold” music project, but only the University of Alaska Southeast got onboard.

This time around, an impending change in administration could derail the project, but Ridle believes that’s not likely.

“It won’t stall just because there’s a new administration; there’s no reason to,” she said.

At the Arts Council, Brown said he sees this new project as akin to the state art bank, which allows state buildings to borrow the artwork of Alaska artists for interior decoration.

“If you’re doing it for visual arts, why not do it with performing arts?” he said.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


Annie Bartholomew, Program Director and host for KXLL-FM, has helped find five songs from Alaska artists in the first round of nominees intended to replace the state’s existing telephone hold music. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Annie Bartholomew, Program Director and host for KXLL-FM, has helped find five songs from Alaska artists in the first round of nominees intended to replace the state’s existing telephone hold music. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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