I bought a used car a few months ago, and I am proud of the deal I got. The car was only four months old, but the previous owner wanted leather interior, so he traded it in. Personally, I don’t like leather in a car, so I was content to buy the virtually new car. I was especially pleased at the cost of the car: $16k below a comparably equipped new model. Were it not for the deep discount, there is no way I would have been able to afford to buy it. As it stands, it serves as a pleasant vehicle in which to sit through rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles.
One of the amenities the previous owner sprang for a was a contract for satellite radio. I don’t actually know how long the contract is, but until it expires (which could be tomorrow or never), I have access to SiruisXM channels. It is an option I would not have thought of paying for. I am a devout fan of podcasts, and I listen to a routine number of them during my commute and at bedtime. There are also a handful of Los Angeles radio stations I listen to, specifically KLOS and The Sound. In short, it seems like overkill to pay for additional access to media. Then again, maybe not.
In LA, we are mostly limited to either classic rock, hip-hop, or pop stations. Longtime “oldies” station K-Earth now includes Madonna in its playlist. There is no local source for blues or jazz standards. There is no FM talk station (other than NPR). AM talk is almost entirely conservative and filled with pompous bastards.
Over the last few months, however, I have enjoyed having the variety of formats on SiriusXM. SiriusXM has an entire station dedicated to Frank Sinatra (though sometimes other artists are featured on the station, which I don’t entirely understand). It has a bluegrass station (something I’m surprised I enjoy). It has news and talk stations from Canada and the UK. I caught BBC Radio 1′s record breaking 52-hour marathon broadcast of The Chris Moyles Show. I also caught CNN coverage of the potential government shutdown. I even discovered that I like the newest Dr. Dre single.
It is ironic that the world of radio seems to only offer diversity when one is forced to subscribe to 150+ channels all at the same time, while similar bundled deals have resulted in the homogenization of television. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that SiriusXM is a failed business model. What began as two failing satellite radio networks has now merged into one failing network.
In the end, people don’t see the benefit of choice. I can’t even engage in a debate about how we have allowed the public airwaves to be usurped by private enterprise because I find the situation so infuriating. But whether the public airwaves or satellite radio, people don’t seem to want different radio options. They also don’t mind paying for cable TV channels that mimic each other. People seem to be alright with massive studios acquiring independent production companies, further limiting who green-lights the creation and distribution of content. People seem to have accepted that a handful of people are responsible for the majority of media made available.
People look to the internet is a viable option. There has been a shift to ‘net-based streaming/downloading of video content, but radio stations haven’t had tremendous online success (though, oddly enough, radio stations who stream live video content do tend to fare well). The most successful podcasts have been run by independent individuals. It will be interesting to see how well filmmaker Kevin Smith’s Smodcast Internet Radio (S.I.R.) network performs (I predict it will also find a home on SiriusXM).
If I ruled the world, broadcast radio would more closely resemble SiriusXM. There would be greater variety of content. Failing that, I enjoy SiriusXM, but not enough to actually pay for it — not because I don’t think it is a worthwhile purchase, but because it is something we should already be getting for free. There are those who want to cut funding for public radio content, whereas I feel it should be increased to allow for more options. The airwaves belong to us, but we timidly accept the lack of choice. However, unlike SiriusXM, I’d prefer radio stations that wouldn’t cut out whenever I went through a tunnel or under an overpass. And my Sinatra channel would ONLY play Sinatra.