Friday, January 20, 2006

Dig: Satellite Radio

So I have about a 30-minute commute to work. Not bad compared to you poor saps in LA or Chicago or someplace but it's still time that I have to give away each day. Here in West Michigan, there are precious few good radio stations so I would jump back and forth between three fairly cheesy "morning zoo" shows: Bob and Tom, Free Beer and Hot Wings (don't get me started on their names) and Kevin Matthews. I was a big Kevhead a long time ago but I become a pretty die-hard Howard Stern fan for the short period of time that he was on the air here in Biblethumperland so I've been missing him. Imagine my delight when he announced he would be moving to satellite radio! I'll talk more about Howard in a minute, but let's discuss satellite radio in general first, shall we?

I'm generally a pretty cheap bastard. That comes primarily from not having much money. This is true despite purchasing a slick new minivan recently (can minivans be "slick" or is that a contradiction in terms?) equipped with a DVD player and five sunroofs. This thing also came stocked with XM radio. And a free 3-month trial! Thanks, Nissan! "I'm sure there's no way that I'll want to part with $12.95 per month after my free trial, but thanks for the free sample of XM", I foolishly said to myself. Fast forward to the day the renewal letter comes from XM reminding me that my free trial is about to end and would I like to renew my subscription? I think you know where this is going. The Marketing folks at XM/Nissan succeeded yet again in signing up another subscriber after giving away $38.85 worth of satellite radio. I'm such a sucker!

The reason that we re-upped is because XM is cool. In fact, I dig it. There are more friggin' channels on this thing than you can shake a stick at. And beleive you me, I've shaken a lot of sticks in my day! Certainly there are plenty of channels that I don't listen to. I'm not really into Rap or Hip-Hop (I'm pretty white bread) and I generally skip the Christian and Classical channels, but there are about 25 music channels that I regularly surf and there are a ton of talk channels and sports channels. Channel 150 is one of two comedy channels and how can you resist listening to Chris Rock do his thing while you're driving to the grocery store? Mind you, one must exercise caution when young ears are in the car but Chris is one funny guy and it beats listening to the usual formula of morning drive time radio or whatever 25 songs are in heavy rotation at the moment.

So back to Howard. Prior to leaving terrestrial radio (that's the same as "regular old radio", for you uninitiated) Howard had about 13 million listeners and you gotta figure he's going to bring a percentage of those folks with him to Sirius. He should, considering his 5 year, $500 million contract. Yep, a half-billion. Not bad, considering how ugly he is. One of those nice people that moved to Sirius is me. This isn't a post about digging Howard, but I do dig him so I ponied up the money for a years' subscription (12 months for the price of 11!) and plugged in my nifty new radio that I received for Christmas and away I went. Howard was the primary reason why I wanted Sirus radio for my car, I have to admit. However, I also just plain old dug satellite radio after listening to it in the super-duper minivan. Howard was just the guy that convinced me to do Sirius instead of XM.

Taking Howard out of the picture, Sirius and XM both have their strengths and I'm not sure which one is better. Both have lots of categories of music as described above and both have contracts with different professional sports leagues. For instance, Sirius has the NFL but XM doesn't, so I would have had to sit in my car to listen to the Steelers win today instead of my wife's minivan. XM has a contract with major league baseball and NASCAR (this is me not making fun of NASCAR again...) and the Big Ten. For my friend, Ron, Sirius has a gay and lesbian channel so that might be good for him.

Satellite radio allows you to check out new music without plunking down money for a CD that might be a little iffy. Again, I'm a cheapskate and just because I like the one song that I hear on the radio doesn't mean I'll go out and buy the CD. I can hear a little more than just the single that was released and then decided if I want to spend the money. And, because satellite offers so many oldies (by that, I mean '70s, '80s and '90s) stations, you don't have to be embarassed about listening to such classics as "Afternoon Delight", anything by The Outfield or "Mmmm Bop" because you don't have to actually lay the CD on the counter and look the clerk in the eye as you give him your money. You can tool on down the road and listen to Hansen-like music all day long without the guilt of buying their CDs. If anyone challenges you on what you were listening to, you can always just say you were surfing the channels and the last time you listened to this one, there was something much less sucky on.

Prior to hopping on the satellite bandwagon, my CD changer took a puke on me. I was working a friend to buy his because he says he never uses it. Why not, you ask? Because he has Sirius, he says. And he's right. He lent me his changer and said that he would sell it to me if I really wanted it but that I might find that I don't need a CD changer if I have satellite. And, by golly, he's right. I haven't listened to a single CD since Christmas. I guess that's only related to digging satellite radio in that Sirius is good enough to replace my CD changer - sorry if I got off track there for a minute.

So, there you have it. Satellite radio is cool. Much like cable TV, there is so much stuff on that you're bound to find something you like. Want to know how the traffic is shaping up in Seattle? Channel 156 on Sirius can hook you up. Miss the latest driving-in-circles event that NASCAR holds every weekend? Tune in to Channel 144 on XM. And let's not forget the high-brow comedy of Howard Stern on Sirius Channel 100. Just this week, he was asking Larry King's wife why in the world she wanted to become Mrs. Larry King #7 and who can resist that little tidbit of news?!

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