The rebirth of radio

xm radio receiverXM Radio was developed by people who love music. It is programed by music lovers of the first order. Music fans should love XM Radio.

I now know this about XM Radio because I got my wife XM for Christmas.

Fortunately, we’re both music lovers and XM hits the spot.

We got an ear full of XM driving to and from San Diego. We listened XM 12 (XCountry), XM 13 (Hank’s Place), XM 40 (Deep Tracks), XM 43 (XM U, or “what’s next”), XM 44 (Fred, which strikes me mostly as the new wave/punk of my late teens and early twenties), XM 53 (Fungus, and is mostly the brand of punk I enjoy), and all of the decades channels (there isn’t a decade of music that both my wife and I don’t find something we enjoy — in fact, since XM only goes back to the 40s, it doesn’t go back far enough for us. We’ll take the 20s and 30s, too.) We also made stops at every other spot on the XM dial, even doing a little Larry Elder, CNN, MSNBC and Los Angeles traffic.

What I like most about XM is that the people programming these stations know there music. They haven’t just stuck a bunch of CDs in a multi-disk changer and hit shuffle (which seems to be how the digital stations on DirecTV are programmed). There are real people picking quality songs, and not just the hits, but songs you haven’t heard in years or maybe never heard. And for hard core music fans like me and my wife, finding an Ernest Tubb or Wynn Stewart song we haven’t heard is an accomplishment.

Interesting example (interesting to me at least) driving home this evening, I heard for the first time Jan Howard’s “Evil on Your Mind,” which is a song I had just been reading about. It’s a woman’s take on cheating, but before the man had actually done the cheating. And I thought, it might be interesting to write a song from a man’s perspective before the cheating had been consummated.

A couple of hours later over on XCountry, the DJ cued up Todd Snider‘s “Trouble,” with its chorus of “A woman like you walks in a place like this/You can almost hear the promises break,” and I knew for a fact what I already suspected — the song had already been written.

Speaking of DJs — another cool aspect of XM are the DJs. DJs’s on XM? Doesn’t that get in the way of the music? Well, a good DJ does a couple of things — first, he doesn’t get in the way of the music. In fact, he sometimes adds a little context or enlightenment. Second, somebody talkin’ at ya helps break the music up. Believe it or not, an endless stream of music can get a little monotonous. It’s nice to know there’s a real person picking out the songs. But the nice touch from XM is that all of the DJs are station appropriate. On the ’60s channel, for example, you’ll be reminded of the fast-talkin’ boss-DJs of AM’s salad days.

The current line up for XM means that just about every taste in music is represented. I wish there were a rockabilly station, and maybe jump blues, and something that is strictly swing would be nice. But at this stage of my XM listening, my needs are satisfied, and I know my wife’s will be, too. In fact, I’m so impressed with XM that next month, or the next, I’ll get XM for myself.

My one quibble with XM really has more to do with our set up for XM than a failing of the service itself.

Originally, XM was supposed to come with my wife’s Toyota Scion. The dealership ASSURED us repeatedly when we bought the car that all we needed to do to get XM was the buy the service for $10 per month. I didn’t do it right away for various reasons, and when I went to give it a try, I learned (with great difficulty and poor customer service from Ventura Toyota) that we had to sink an additional $300 into the Scion to get XM. I wasn’t about to pay $300 for XM, so while Ventura Toyota lost a customer, my wife was without XM.

What I bought for Billie was an XM car kit for $119, which included the receiver, a cassette adaptor and an FM modulator. Since neither of our cars have cassette decks, we were counting on the FM modulator.

The modulator is easy enough to use. You just have to find a free frequency and then flick a switch or two to tune the modulator to that frequency. It’s finding a open frequency (even with eight to choose from) that is the pain in the ass, especially while driving through metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or San Diego. It’s hard to go as much as 20 miles without starting a new quest for an open frequency. And for a large portion of our trip though LA, we couldn’t find an completely open frequency and had to settle for a bit of static.

Otherwise, the XM signal is just as crisp and clear as XM advertises. When tuned right, XM is better than CD quality.

I also bought Billie the home adaptor kit. It works on the office stereo, which is fine, but on the living room stereo we get a deep, rumbling hum. I’m guessing it’s a ground problem, but supposedly my fancy tuner/receiver shouldn’t need to be grounded, so I’m not sure what to do. I’m open to suggestions if you have any.

One additional benefit of XM: It’s the radio network that DOESN’T HAVE Howard Stern on it.

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