Welcome Back America — bring your iPhones, transistor radios and maybe a boom box

Love them or hate them, Yonge-Dundas Square is surrounded by giant TV screens. Though we have debated the pros and cons of their existence (mostly con here from many of our readers, with a few lone voices of qualified pro, including yours truly) it’s at times like tonight’s US election that the screens could perform a public good by broadcasting events live for all to see together, just as many Torontonians did during the Beijing Olympics. The folks at Yonge-Dundas Square do not have control over the Jumbotrons on surrounding buildings or even the screen hanging in the square. We assume/hope some of those screens will be broadcasting a news channel or feed (some of us recall that “the news” has been on in between ads from time to time in CP24 style).

We’ve sent a notice to each company encouraging them to broadcast a newsfeed, but in the event they choose not to participate in this historic evening, we encourage folks heading to the Square tonight to bring your portable mobile devices that can stream or pick up radio broadcasts in order to hear some sound. One reason we set the time for after the election winner has been called was because we didn’t know if the screens would be broadcasting live or not. It might be neat to to have Obama’s speech coming over hundreds of small devices, like the sound old-time drive-in theatre’s made. At any rate, Obama’s victory speech (knock on wood) will be widely available on the internet afterwards, so there is no fear in missing out. This morning CNN was reporting that 500,000 were expected to converge on Grant Park in Chicago to hear Obama’s speech, with up to a million spread along Lake Michigan. We hope the gathering in Toronto captures, in a smaller way, that optomistic communal excitement.

Photo by Ian Muttoo.


  1. Sorry to potentially cause you to repeat yourself, but I’m not sure I understand the pro-video screens perspective at all. I’m very interested, however, in learning what it might involve. Like, I assume the screens are purely for advertising at all times? If so, what is the benefit of such (obnoxiously) conspicuous advertising surrounding the square? It seems that, because these screens are otherwise making money by displaying advertisements, there is no reason that the people that control them would care about using them for the public good.

    This election is really exciting. How can the iphone stream election results through radio? From the internet? Which website would provide this?

  2. There are a lot of websites and feeds that publish live election results, including CNN.com. So you could check what was up on your iPhone. I think hitting up a sports bar prior to the election being called is a better bet.

  3. By showing special content on certain occasions, people may warm up to the billboards. With the great work done by illegalsigns.ca and the like, the reputation and profits of the industry have declined.

  4. Here’s how the Star is reporting it:

    “Beneath the jumbotrons and towering billboards advertising everything from movies to the latest lipsticks, a handful of expectant partygoers kept looking up for election results on a news ticker, but all that was blinking back was more ads.

    “Many of them had to resort to cellphones and BlackBerrys for news of the election.”

  5. I was there around 1:00 AM last night and there was a handful of people dancing around. It was pretty anticlimatic, considering the other venues I had been been at or passed by – bars, houses, etc. – were jumping.

    I’m still not convinced that Dundas Square has any real resonance with Torontonians. Nathan Philips Square has more history (though no video screens, thankfully), but is still not a central gathering place unless there is something specifically happening there. As such, I think we tend to stick to our neighbourhoods – the intersections, the bars, the front porches, places like that.

  6. By 1 it was dying down, but when I left a little before 1, there were still about 100 I would say. They probably dispersed soon after. The bulk came in waves between 11pm – 1am.

    Matt, I disagree, based on what I’ve seen happen in Dundas Square. People do go there naturally on a variety of celebratory occasions.

  7. Alexander: “Like, I assume the screens are purely for advertising at all times?” That assumption is problematic. The ideal, of course, is that the screens are not used for advertising at all times. For some examples of best practice, start here: http://www.urbanscreens.org and here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bigscreens/

    Shawn & Jonathan: I’m disappointed to hear (according to the Star’s coverage) that the screen operators at Dundas Square ignored this opportunity. It’s worse than just a missed trick, it’s embarrassing. Can someone verify the accuracy of that quote from the Star?

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