When it comes to satellite radio, I was wrong. Back in 2000,
when XM and Sirius were announced at CES, I was convinced that
both would die a rapid death, with nary a tear shed by anyone
but their investors. Why pay ten bucks a month, I reasoned,
for something you can get for free?
It was the height of Napster, when free (albeit illegal) music
sharing was at its zenith. Royalty-free Internet radio abounded.
Decent broadcast radio was not yet an oxymoron. And it seemed
that there were much better things to spend money on than music.
So what changed my tune? It had nothing to do with all the marketing
money each company spends trying to influence journalists. It
wasn't a timely product placement by some enterprising PR rep.
Nope, oddly enough, it was a Ford Taurus that first turned my
A year and a half ago, I was part of PC Magazine's Editors'
Days in Southern California. The meetings were held at the tony
Westin Hotel in Newport Beach, but dinner the night before was
hosted by Gateway Computers (when there still was such a thing),
almost two hours away in San Diego.
Following my longstanding policy of not driving long distances
after dinner, I eschewed joining the flotilla of PC Magazine
editors hot-footing it back up the coast, and opted to bunk
down instead at a local hotel. That meant renting my own car,
which suited me just fine anyway.
I've traveled many a long mile in rental cars. I used to carry
around CDs and a cassette adapter so I could listen to my own
music while driving. But over the past few years, the cassette
deck has been phased out of rental cars, and a tiny MP3 player
has replaced my kit-bag of CDs and a portable player. That,
unfortunately, meant I either had to settle for one of those
poor-performing FM broadcasting add-ons, listen to regular radio,
or drive with headphones on. Terrible options, all.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that my Hertz Rent A Car
Ford Taurus featured a built-in Sirius radio. Soon I found myself
heading down Interstate 5, mashing buttons on the satellite
radio and swerving madly as I searched for something to listen
to. With more than a hundred channels, that wasn't a problem,
but finding something appealing was. Eventually, I stumbled
on a gold mine—a station that played my favorite genre
of music 24 hours a day, seven days a week. — Continue
Let me stop here, and describe my musical tastes. I like jazz,
enjoy reggae, and have a nostalgic fondness for eighties-style
new wave. But my one true favorite doesn't even have an officially
sanctioned ID3-tag genre to call its own. I call it hippie music,
others call it jam band. It's the free-form improvisational
rock loosely defined by the Grateful Dead and gleefully reinterpreted
by Phish, String Cheese Incident, Assembly of Dust, and a vast,
perpetually touring subculture of bands nationwide.
Now I'd found an amazing channel: Sirius 17, aka "Jam On." The
name precisely defines my musical tastes. I'd spent years building
up live concert recordings of many of the bands on the playlist,
most of which filled my 60MB Zen Xtra MP3 player near to bursting.
But without an outlet to expose me to new music, my tastes had
atrophied. Man cannot live on Jerry, Reid, and Trey alone! (For
the uninitiated, that's Garcia of the Dead, Genauer of Assembly
of Dust, and Anastasio of Phish, respectively.)
After an hour of listening to Jam On, I'd discovered a brand-new
library of artists to adore, from Keller Williams to the North
Mississippi Allstars, and had rekindled my love of the Radiators,
Medeski Martin & Wood, and many others. My 4-hour round-trip
drive was a mind-blowing exploration of expanding musical horizons.
The jams even softened the notorious SoCal traffic.
It took months after that fortuitous discovery, though, before
I finally hopped on the Sirius bus (as it were). I wasn't willing
to have satellite radio only in my car. That seemed like a waste,
as my daily drive to the train is just 10 minutes. But then
Sirius came out with the Sportster, an iPod-size unit that could
be swapped from a car cradle to a home stereo, and even to a
boombox. I was hooked.— Continue reading
Living with Sirius, Looking at XM
So now I've had Sirius for almost six months, and I'm a full-blown
addict. I listen to Jam On all the time, but I've discovered
some other wonderful channels, including First Wave (eighties
new wave, from the Human League to Blondie), and Vacation: reggae,
Jimmy Buffett, and more.
But with the onset of baseball season, the grass is now looking
greener on the XM side of the fence. I'm a frustrated Mets fan
living in San Francisco, and really miss hearing my team's games
on the radio. XM is offering the entire season, built into the
monthly cost. XM also features my favorite talk radio personality,
Phil Hendrie (for the record, Sirius's big acquisition, Howard
Stern, doesn't do much for me). Even though I've added a Sirius
cradle to my car, I just might have to switch, or add an XM
unit to my magic bag of gadgets.
That's easier than you might think, because the variety of hardware
options has also grown tremendously. In addition to the units
that swap between car and house, Sirius hardware includes the
nifty Tivoli retro radio for the kitchen, and units from Pioneer
and others that look great in the home-theater rack.
XM has taken portability to new heights with the battery-powered
Walkman-style Delphi MyFi, which lets you take your satellite
radio with you anywhere. It even includes enough memory to record
5 hours of content, TiVo-style, for later listening.
The MyFi has changed at least one frequent flyer's routine.
My XM-fanatic buddy (who will remain nameless for reasons that
are about to become obvious) now sits only in south-facing window
seats when he flies, so he can surreptitiously listen to his
XM radio by secretly poking the antenna up against the airplane