The random endorsement: XM Satellite Radio (or, why regular radio stinks)


In about two hours I will be watching either Manchester United tear apart Olympique Lyon or Barcelona and its Fantastic Four give Celtic a lesson in… losing to Barcelona. In the meantime, I just have to make with my random endorsement, which has become less and less random as the weeks have gone by. I actually have to think on the subway to myself, what in God’s name am I going to extol today?

The answering to that question today is satellite radio, specifically XM since I’ve never listened to Sirius except for Oakenfold’s radio show (which I download). I assume Sirius is just as swell, but I’m not sure. I’m only one man.

So yes, XM is okay by me. Why, you ask?

I first listened to XM on a regular basis two years ago when I got some portable Samsung radio to review. The unit itself was pretty decent, if only lacking storage space (1GB flash) but boy oh boy did I listen to XM like whoa. (That’s right, “like whoa”; it’s 1998 all over again.) Some of you may have guessed given my propensity to drop DJ names left and right, but the “dance” channels were my fav. I used to be all over BPM—I’m pretty sure Above & Beyond’s “Can’t Sleep” was played every hour on the hour—but now my tastes have matured; whatever channel plays house is what I’ll listen to.

But beyond my weird like of all things house, XM has a lot of other normal people music/content. The Zeppelin channel that launched a few months ago was tremendous. No one was “bringing the Led out” or playing “Stairway” and pretending that it was the only song in their entire catalogue. It treated Zeppelin fans like sentient beings, which, in radio, is damn rare.

I’m also a fan of all those [indie] rock channels, like XMU and Ethel. And what’s wrong with a little Fox News to get your patriotic blood pumping, or some Opie & Anthony for the latest in whateveritistheytalkabout? (Ron and Fez, noon to 3.)

But you know what’s even better about XM? It’s how much it makes regular, commercial (terrestrial) radio look like complete garbage.

Tomorrow morning turn on your local rock station and soak in the utter banality of it all. Castrated jocks reading off a pre-approved script that’s designed to offend no one and bore everyone. Heaven forbid you say something that might offend one gentleman or gentlelady and you’ll be whisked right out the door followed by an apology the next morning proclaiming the station’s innocence.

You may think that has little to do with the radio experience, but if jocks, who are supposed to be programming the music on their own (not PDs) and acting like an actual person on the air, are held to ridiculous standards, the medium suffers. If they’re too concerned with saying the wrong thing and finding themselves with a pink slip, they can hardly be expected to produce good, interesting radio.

And never mind the song selection. On XM I can hear all the trashy pop music I want, along with stupidly obscure songs on Deep Tracks and terrible 90s tracks that remind me of my perfect childhood. What do I have on FM here in New York? Two rock stations playing the same songs we’ve heard since the beginning of time and some other crap I have no interest in. Hanniy’s cool, but that’s about it here.

So that sorta turned into a rant against the current state of radio, but that plays into XM’s strengths. For $15 a month, or the price or a couple drinks at your local dive bar, you don’t have to put up with that nonsense. And I’m nothing if not looking for a way to avoid nonsense.

XM Satellite Radio