Sirius Satellite Radio: Sirius-ly Bitchin'
I have had a very public and very torrid love affair with radio since I can remember. It started with the transistor radio that my mom used to keep on top of the refrigerator banging out what would now be called “70’s Gold.” At the time, it was just called “American Top 40.” This love affair with radio smoldered to a frenzy once I discovered shortwave radio and finally, FM.
I pretty much grew up in the mecca of great FM radio. A flick of the tuning knob brought in KROQ, KPFK, KCRW, KMET, and KTYD, all staples of great music in Southern California. During all my trials and tribulations of puberty and adolescence (there were TON) I could always count on tuning to KROQ to make that melancholy fit nicely within a soundtrack. Me and Morrissey were tight back then.
As I grew older, it became harder and harder for me to hold back when all I wanted to do was put my Doc Martens through the front of the radio. It seemed that my old friend had been hijacked by some bastard who thought it might be a good idea to flood the airwaves with massive doses of commercials. It got to the point where I would scan through the dial without hearing any music.
Then, something more sinister started to surface. As I travel, I have a manic compulsion to flick the FM dial to see what is going on in different parts of the country. I grew up doing radio tape trading (more on that in a later article) throughout the world via the postal service. One of the cool things is that I was always kept in the know as to what was going on all over the country on the radio front.
As I drove on a few cross country road trips in later years, I realized that even after driving 1,500 miles, I was still hearing the same songs, and more confusing yet, the same DJ’s and the same radio spots. It didn’t matter if I was in NYC or Des Moines, the same songs, same DJ’s, and the same spots followed me everywhere. Now, I suppose this would be a great thing if the music served up to me like a Big Mac was good stuff, or at least a variety of mediocrity, but this was never the case.
My radio was stuffed chock full of three songs. No matter how great a song is, it is not so great after an hour or so, and worse after a full day. At this point, I became violent when assaulted by the same three classic rock songs for more than a few minutes. The writing was on the walls, and finally had to admit it. Radio and I were headed for a divorce. We divided our stuff, and went our separate ways. This was some time in 1994.
A few years ago, I got wind of satellite radio, it was as if a new mistress had left the scent of her perfume on my pillow when I was out. I would smell it, I could taste it, but any promise of fruition was just a carrot dangling on a string. One day, without a whole lot of fanfare, it was announced that there were two options. Dammit. Options. I just wanted to buy, and not think. The decision was probably the hardest I have ever made: Sirius or XM Radio.
For the past 8 years, I have played the role of rock music critic. There comes a time in the life of every music critic where the magic is gone. No amount of slick packaging will change this state. I hit this almost immediately. At this point, I started listening to way more than my share of public radio. Sneer if you must, but tune in to “This American Life” one day, and then get back to me. I went to the store, and put the brochures side by side.
XM radio offered several more genres of music and they began to pull ahead. Until.. I got to the talk sections. Sirius offered two NPR and one PRI stations to XM Radio’s none. I got my little Here2Anywhere box and checked out.
I picked up the home kit, and from opening the box to listening to my fully enabled subscription, about fifteen minutes had lapsed. It was magic. It was sort of like the Pina Colada song, me and my old lady had been reunited. After about seven months of heated passion, radio and I are back together, and our bond is getting stronger every day.
The basic trick to satellite radio is that you are tied directly into three orbiting satellites continually broadcasting commercial free music to wherever you may be. There are about 100 stations but, as I am sure most people do, I end up picking a dozen or so favorite channels.
Although the music streams are enough to make even the most jaded listener quiver, it gets better. It would have been enough for me to just have the music piped in, but they took it one step better. Rather than just spinning endless mp3’s, they incorporate “Stream Jockeys” into the mix. Think of the coolest DJ’s you listened to growing up: the cats that knew music and knew the artists as well. The ones that had the balls to play stuff that was new and interesting. The next generation of these jocks is now at Sirius. There is just something cool about knowing that when you are listening to the radio at 2AM, there is a real live person out there playing the records for you and stopping every now and then to say hi.
In my case, it is a little cooler in that Stream 22 (First Wave) actually hired the same DJ’s I grew up listening to. The first time I heard Richard Blade on the air, I almost crashed my car. If Sirius brought on Rodney Bingenheimer, I would probably just give them all my money.
Speaking of which, Sirius does cost more than XM Radio ($12.95 versus $9.95) but if you are squabbling over three bucks a month, you should probably just stick to the cost free airwaves.
All that being said, Sirius has brought back the magic of radio for me. Great Stream Jockeys, and endless variety of music and talk radio, and above all, a renewed sense of faith in the future of our society.
If I had to pick one product in the past five years that has changed my life most, it would be Sirius.
After seven months, I have only one gripe about Sirius. I have both the house and the car systems, and I have found that on both systems, when you plug the unit into the cradle, you have to mess with the antenna jack in order to get it to work right. When they designed it, the allowed a little too much slack in the jack. Not a big gripe, but I had to find something. When you have to mess with this jack six or eight times a day, it’s a pain in the ass. But, other than that, if you loved FM radio in the 70’s, you will probably make out with your Sirius receiver when no one is looking.
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