If Kylee Broughton's cell phone emits a catchy burst of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," the 25-year-old Toledoan knows she's getting a call from her brother Bryan Pacholski, who lives in Mexico.
If it's Etta James' silky, romantic "At Last," she doesn't have to pick up the phone to know it's her husband, Craig, calling. That song was played at their wedding.
"It's caller ID for the hands-free age," explained Ms. Broughton, publications coordinator and adviser to the student newspaper at Owens Community College.
Ms. Broughton has nine ring tones, not including those oh-so-yesterday ringers that came pre-programmed in the phone. And thus she's part of a trend that has become so big - reportedly $3 billion in sales worldwide - that last year Billboard magazine began ranking the top-selling musical ring tones, just as it has charted CD and record sales for years.
Its Billboard Hot Ringtones Chart debuted in November; currently in first place is "Candy Shop" by 50 Cent featuring Olivia.
Billboard also added a Ringtone of the Year category to its annual awards, bestowing the title in December to 50 Cent's "In Da Club."
Custom ring tones can be downloaded from Internet sites. Some tones are advertised as being free, some are 99 cents apiece and up, and some are available for purchase in package deals - three for $5.99, for example. Some sites offer unlimited downloading of ring tones and other goodies such as screensavers and games for a specified time period - six months, a year - for a fee.
"It allows you to personalize your phone," Nikki Learakos, Midwest area marketing manager for Verizon Wireless, said in an interview from her office in Schaumburg, Ill. And, by knowing who is calling just by the ring tone, "it helps you manage your calls."
If the tone tells you it's someone whose call probably isn't urgent - or someone you're trying to duck - you just let it ring. The tone lasts as long as the standard ring does before going to voice mail, Mrs. Learakos said.
Not every ring tone that strikes one's fancy can be downloaded; the cell phone model and service provider have to support a particular software. And older cell phones generally don't have the capability to download ring tones.
Mrs. Learakos said Verizon Wireless began selling its "Get It Now" phones that are capable of downloading ring tones and other such add-ons in June, 2002. (Its newest offering, now available in most western states, are ringback tones - musical clips that callers hear instead of a standard ring.)
Verizon and other providers offer thousands of ring tone options, including music of all genres and theme songs from television shows and movies. Some are instrumental versions of songs, some are snippets of original songs with lyrics, both oldies and hot current offerings. Some software applications give cell phone users the ability to mix their own ring tones.
Not all are musical - you can get hundreds of spoken impressions, phrases, and sounds.
Ms. Broughton, of Owens, has downloaded the Wheel of Fortune theme as her default ring tone. Her assigned tones, in addition to "Copacabana" for one brother and "At Last" for her husband, include the Jeopardy theme for a second brother and the University of Michigan fight song for another; "Hang on Sloopy" for a friend who is an Ohio State University fan; the hymn "Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee" for her mom; and the Friends theme for her best pal.
Going to such trouble and expense might puzzle those who regard a cell phone as simply a tool. Ms. Broughton explains: "I think it's the trap that most tech-savvy people fall into. It's the new toy, and you kind of want to see how it works."
One of her co-workers at Owens, special events coordinator Jenn Perko, 24, of Bowling Green, said a cell phone is an extension of one's personality. "It's a part of you. You might as well make it fun."
Her default ring tone that covers just about all her callers is the Beatles' "In My Life." Those who have been assigned their own sound include her mother (Pink Panther); her sister (The Muppets); her boyfriend (Eric Clapton's "Sunshine of Your Love"), and a mambo for friends in Florida.
"I constantly am changing them," Miss Perko said. "My boyfriend has a lot for all his friends, too. They put new ones on every couple of weeks."
Brad Ligibel, 27, of West Toledo, has ring tones for phone functions as well as callers. When he gets a text message, his cell phone alerts him with the theme from Halloween; the phone alarm clock plays the Peanuts theme. His assigned tones for callers include the OSU fight song and "a depressing classical piece" for a former girlfriend - for warning purposes, "not because I'm hurt by the breakup," he clarifies.
"I've heard some pretty weird songs that have played out of people's phones. A lot of them I can't even recognize," Mr. Ligibel said.
Shawn Eichenberg's cell phone repertoire includes Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" for one friend, the "Super Mario Brothers Theme" for another, and Kenny Chesney's "When the Sun Goes Down" for friends who like country music.
Mr. Eichenberg, 20, of Temperance, said his ring tones are intended to amuse other people as well as himself - although he and the others who were interviewed about their ring tone selections say they're careful to switch the ringer to the vibrate setting when they're in places where the noise would be offensive.
Mr. Eichenberg said he doesn't think personalized ring tones are irritating - it's the standard ringers he objects to, "because they're so loud and obnoxious."
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