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The art of the ringtone

A cartoon illustration of a man wearing a tie and standing near a cell phone hovering in midair. The sound of the phone's ringtone has caused his brain to fly out of the back of his head.
Toby Bridson
Getty Images
Like a gale force wind, it's the Mind Blowing Ringtone.

Ringtones went from uniform to a million dollar industry to the unconscious soundtrack of our lives. They’re pieces of music that are designed to get you to react. They’re sounds that often carry emotions and memories with them. But we tend not to give them much thought.

This hour, the art of the ringtone. We look back at their history, investigate their rise and fall, discuss the appeal of a well-composed one, and talk to someone who designed his own.

Warning: This show contains the default iPhone alarm tone.


  • Sumanth Gopinath: Associate professor of music theory at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Ringtone Dialectic: Economy and Cultural Form
  • Sam Hadelman: Works in music public relations and hosts The Sam Hadelman Show at Radio Free Brooklyn
  • Paula Matthusen: Composer and a professor of music at Wesleyan University
  • Steve Metcalf: Founder and director of the Garmany Concert Series at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School
  • Ernie Smith: Editor of Tedium and a contributor to Vice’s Motherboard
  • Brian Slattery: Arts editor for the New Haven Independent and a producer at WNHH radio

The Colin McEnroe Show is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe and never miss an episode!

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Colin McEnroe, Gene Amatruda, Cat Pastor, and Dylan Reyes contributed to this show, which originally aired May 12, 2022.

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Lily is the senior producer for The Colin McEnroe Show. She first worked at Connecticut Public as an intern in 2014. She has previously worked for WBUR, KUNC and as a producer for the New England News Collaborative's weekly show Next. Lily can be reached at ltyson@ctpublic.org.
Jonathan is a producer for ‘The Colin McEnroe Show.’ His work has been heard nationally on NPR and locally on Connecticut Public’s talk shows and news magazines. He’s as likely to host a podcast on minor league baseball as he is to cover a presidential debate almost by accident. Jonathan can be reached at jmcnicol@ctpublic.org.
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