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andee's world: "Free Radio" Is Still Overpriced

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"Free Radio" Is Still Overpriced

So my big Christmas present from last year was a Sirius radio receiver and a year's subscription to Siruis. My friend Marty has had XM for some time now, and, after spending a weekend at his place last October, I got kind of smitten with the idea of getting satellite radio myself.

Thing is, I really like listening to the radio, when it's good. I grew up listening to the radio; it's how I got turned on to all my favorite bands early on. I had it on all the time in my room. Just like a million other misfit kids, I would sneak the radio under the covers at night and listen when I was supposed to be sleeping. The djs were like friends to me, as pathetic as that sounds.

But as we all know, commercial radio has gone to seed in the last ten years or so. It is unbearable. And I can't tell you how happy I am to see K-Rock and the other corporate-conglomerate-owned stations in America crumble to dust. Serves them right -- what do they expect, after force-feeding us Nickelback and Linkin Park all this time? Are you joking? Good riddance to all of you.

I had to laugh when I saw this weepy article on the demise of K-Rock in the new issue of SPIN -- all this crap about what a great loss it is. Some joker from Fall Out Boy is in there saying K-Rock was this "big supporter of alternative rock" and that its downfall "speaks volumes about the changes going on in music."

Are you for real? Have you ever listened to that rotten station even for a few minutes? If anything is harming the state of things in the music world, it is the narrow, unimaginative, corporate consultant-scripted, tight-assed radio play lists of K-Rock and other crap stations of its ilk. Hey, Fall Out Boy -- K-Rock is what's wrong with music. I don't care if they played your band.

People are defecting to satellite radio because they are desperate for quality music, variety and real djs. They're willing to pay for it because it is worth something. There are no commercials. It's a no-brainer.

And I just love how K-Rock are now desperately billing themselves as "free radio," as if that's going to stop people from paying for satellite radio. Nice try, assholes, but free bullshit is still bullshit. Now, please go away forever.

So anyway, after I told my mom I wanted satellite radio for Christmas, I poked around on the internet a little bit to see if I could find any evidence as to which of the two main providers, Sirius or XM, is superior. As far as I could tell, the programming was more or less the same for both; but of course Sirius had Howard Stern, and an Eminem channel.

Then I found the clincher: it seemed that XM were affiliated with Clear Channel. That tore it. I decided I'd go with Sirius.

My mom found a good receiver for me online and generously bought me a year's subscription to go with it. How great is that?! Unfortunately, she had to send me the hardware in the mail in early January (so it would arrive right around the time I returned from Berlin). If you've been reading my posts, you might remember my bitching about a package getting lost in the mail. Well, that was the package. Thanks to the retards at the Williamsburg Post Office, my "first month free" of the Sirius subscription was totally lost, as my receiver rotted in Post Office Limbo Land for four whole weeks. Ugh.

ANYWAY. I finally rescued my long-lost parcel from the big, dumb, clumsy mitts of the USPS one happy day around a month ago. I was so excited to get it fired up. I plugged everything in and went right for the heavy metal station. They were playing a live version of Iron Maiden's "Running Free." So far, so good.

For those of you who don't know, Sirius features around 100 channels of commercial-free music, plus all manner of sports, talk, comedy and news stations. There are classic rock stations, electronic music stations, country, hip hop, jazz, Latin and classical stations. There's CNN, FOX and NPR. They've got Talk for Truckers, Martha Stewart, even something called Maxim Radio, where I suspect they talk about chicks, beer and gadgets, or something. There's a 24-hour Elvis station. And of course, Howard Stern.

After spending a good month listening to music on Sirius, I must say, I'm enjoying it immensely, although it is far from perfect. There are some things I love about it and some things about it that annoy the hell out of me. But let's start with the good stuff:

First of all, no commercials!! Hallelujah, we are in radio xanadu. Commercials are the worst kind of noise pollution there is. Commercials rot your brain. No commercials on Sirius, and a big hooray for that.

Second, they have real djs, and some great ones, too. The Sirius Disorder channel features not only the great Meg Griffin (from WFUV) but also New York radio institution Vin Scelsa, who now broadcasts his Idiot's Delight show from Sirius.

There are weekly guest djs like the B-52s' Fred Schneider, Joan Jett, David Johansen and my former employer Handsome Dick Manitoba. They play what they want and have a good time. It's like, you know, REAL RADIO. The way it should be.

There are certain stations that have emerged as my favorites. The aforementioned Sirius Disorder, a truly free-form channel, is extremely eclectic and always good. Little Steven's Underground Garage, which plays everything from The Hollies to the New York Dolls to the White Stripes, is also pretty top-notch any time of day.

The Old Skool Rap station is a total kick; Kurtis Blow spins on weeknights and it's awesome. The Strobe plays classic disco full time -- how great is it to know that you can hear disco music whenever you feel like it? That makes me happy.

There's a classic rock station called The Vault, which proudly eschews all the overplayed songs that made you hate classic rock radio in the first place. It is a great station. They play tunes by the Rolling Stones I've never heard before. They play bands I've never heard before, like Cactus and Trapeze. They play deep cuts by Queen, Neil Young, Van Halen, Bowie, Springsteen, Zappa. Awesome. I can leave that one on for days.

There are other stations I visit alot. Left of Center, which serves up your basic Pavement/Death Cab/Flaming Lips/college/indie rock goodies, is cool but it sometimes gets a little precious for my tastes -- which is when I tune in to Hard Attack, a no-nonsense, all-metal station, that pummels you with everything from Priest and Sabbath to Children of Bodom and System of a Down. The Soul Town channel plays Motown, classic R&B, and songs with handclaps in every chorus. I live for that kind of thing.

Boombox, which spins "breakbeats and old skool" (why do they always have to spell "skool" like that?!) electronica, is decent but they have a tendency to play those awful mash-ups, which are complete garbage 95% of the time (although I do like the one with Radiohead's "Karma Police" and The Beatles' "A Day In the Life").

As for Howard Stern, I checked out the show one evening (they re-broadcast the program every night), and I'm happy to say that it is pretty much the same as I remembered it from years ago.

Now completely unhampered by the FCC, Howard and his crew are free to say whatever they want on the air, but that doesn't mean they're tossing four-letter-words around willy-nilly, just because they can. Part of what was always funny about Howard was how he worked around the censors, managing to be naughty and provocative and hilarious without using a lot of cheap language. It's still pretty much the same on satellite radio.

So those are the things I like the most about Sirius so far. But I have a few gripes, too:

My biggest complaint -- NO PUNK STATION??! What the hell is that? Sirius has at least four classic rock stations, four hip-hop stations and five dance stations; couldn't they find room for one punk channel? Punk's been around for longer than hip-hop or disco or electronica; it's not like there's a lack of material to draw from. I just don't get it. It's a huge, gaping hole in their programming, if you ask me.

The closest thing to a punk channel is Faction, whose format is a convoluted "Punk, Hip Hop and Hard Rock Mix" Huh?! Needless to say, it's terrible. It sounds like the kind of idea that was cooked up by some suits in a conference room. Bleecch. No thank you.

Then there's Marky Ramone's weekly show on Sirius Disorder, which, I'm sorry to say, is godawful. First of all, he pipes in about 17 Ramones songs per show (and never fails to mention that he was the drummer in the band). As for the rest of the program, it's mostly really weak, So-Cal shit from the 90s. Very weird. It's almost as if Marky doesn't even know that much punk rock. Could that be?

Another big disappointment for me is First Wave, whose format is billed as "classic alternative." I was drawn to this one immediately but I quickly discovered, to my dismay, that the station's playlist is depressingly conservative. Do we really need to hear the "Love Will Tear Us Apart"s, the "I Will Follow"s and the "White Weddings"s in heavy rotation? It's like Eighties Alternative Music for Dummies.

This same channel runs a Sunday night program called Dark Wave, which supposedly goes into the "darker side" of classic alternative music. Seems like a good idea, right? The first time I listened in, I heard Killing Joke, old Cocteaus, Bauhaus, Chameleons, Depeche Mode. Nothing wrong with any of that.

But then, later on in the same show, the dj played Killing Joke again. And Depeche Mode...again. And The Smiths...again!! What the hell? The show is only three hours long -- do they really need to repeat bands? That's Lame with a capital L, if you ask me.

When I listened to Dark Wave last Sunday, I heard stuff like "Blue Monday" and "Forever Young," songs that are already heavily played during regular programming hours. I wrote the dj, some guy named Freddy Snakeskin, an email.

I asked, was this as "dark" as he could get? Where's the Skinny Puppy, where's the Fields of the Nephilim, where's the Alien Sex Fiend? How about Samhain, Nina Hagen or The Cranes? The Damned? The Birthday Party? KMFDM? Eighties-era Nico? Dark Wave, my ass.

Some of the other channels on Sirius exhibit an equal lack of imagination, I'm sorry to report. Every time I pass by the "hair metal" station, they're either playing Bon Jovi, late-period Motley Crue, or the insufferable Great White.

And another thing -- do we really need to hear "Sweet Child O' Mine" on satellite radio? Haven't songs like that already gotten enough exposure for one lifetime? For the record, I vote for the permanent retirement of "Sweet Child O' Mine."

So there are some annoying aspects to Sirius, no doubt about it. But the good news is that you can pretty much always find something good. It needs to be improved, but it's still a great thing, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an antidote to the constipating musical diet offered up by the diabolical cretins running (and ruining) American commercial radio.

But if Sirius doesn't get a punk station by the end of the year, I'm quitting. I'm serious!


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