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Radio alternatives needed more than ever

By Michael Waskiewicz

michael_waskiewicz@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2004-06-14


If you’re a follower of the Fort Wayne Reader (I would guess there’s at least two or three of you. Hi Mom!) and you read us regularly, then you know that a topic that keeps coming up is local radio. We don’t really try to profess an opinion on the topic other than even though we’re in a small market with relatively little national corporate influence, our local radio media provides us with homogenized drivel that lacks edge and fails to reflect our locality. But we don’t try to promote an opinion…

Because change won’t occur without the floor dropping out from under the feet of radio station owners, FWR would like to provide you with recommendations for radio alternatives. You should consider these alternatives until Fort Wayne radio improves. We’ll let you know when that is, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

On a consumer level, this is the most exciting time in music history. You may not have noticed it between Britney Spears singles and MP3 hoarding, but everything about the music scene is changing. Most significantly, the mechanism for music purchase is shifting from one of physical ownership to virtual ownership. You no longer have to physically hold some form of media to have ownership of a song. This actually opens up the doors for music services like iTunes and Napster and the fifty others that are vying for your dollars.

The benefit of virtual services like these has become a real-world panacea for your radio woes. The first radio alternative products we would like to recommend are Rhapsody (www.rhapsody.com) and Napster (www.napster.com).

Both of these are generally regarded as downloading services. If you’re looking for the latest Justin Guarini song (you know who you are), you can go to either of these services and download it and burn it to a CD. Who can deny the power of immediacy? But where both services really shine and why we can call it a radio alternative, is that for a nominal monthly fee ($9.95) both services open up their entire music collection as a jukebox. That’s right, every song in either service is instantly accessible for you to listen to. Imagine having 700,000 songs at your fingertips. The caveat here is that you cannot download those songs to your computer without purchasing them. The software for both services is easy to use, the collection is massive and the music quality is exceptional. To make it even better, both services include radio stations for just about every type of music style.

The only problem with these services is that you’re tied to your computer. You cannot, for instance, listen to these services in your car like you would with normal radio. You can purchase equipment that can wirelessly route music anywhere in your house. For instance, there is a product called the NetGear MP101 that will wirelessly connect to Rhapsody on your computer. All you have to do is connect it to your home stereo, and you now have the largest CD collection of anyone you know.

Rhapsody promises a portable device in the future. I can only imagine this is satellite based. Imagine a walkman with 700,000 songs on it. This brings us to our next recommendation for radio alternatives —satellite radio.

The closest threat to local/national radio is satellite radio. It’s programming is exceptional, it’s commercial-free and most importantly, it’s mobile. You can listen to it at home, in your car or at work.

There are two big contenders in satellite radio, XM and Sirius, and at first glance it appears to be nothing more than a scam to sell equipment. Currently, and to its discredit, there’s no trouble-free satellite radio. You have to spend ridiculous amounts of money on equipment. For instance, you need to buy a receiver (which you cannot actually plug headphones into and listen to music) and a car kit for listening on the road and a home kit to plug into your home stereo. A boom-box option is also available for both XM and Sirius services.

Once you get past the extreme equipment fees (up to $300, depending on what you buy) and subscribe to the service ($9.95/mo. prepaid annually) both services really shine when it comes to content.

There is one truth to satellite radio: “Once you go ‘Sat’ you’ll never go back.” Both the XM and Sirius services offer approximately 100 channels, about 65 devoted to music, the rest for talk, news and comedy. On the display of your receiver, all of the important information about what you’re listening to is there.

The thing about the content is that both networks have really good programming. If you go to the 80s channel, for example, you’re actually going to hear some good 80s music. I promise you that you will not hear the same old OMD song every day, every hour like you do on locally programmed stations. By the way, A NOTE TO LOCAL RADIO PROGRAMMERS: The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink soundtracks do not contain the ONLY 80s music that we’d like to hear.

Despite what has already been said, there is one big drawback to all of these services: they all lack personalities. This could be good, as most of our local DJ’s schmaltzy banter will not be missed. But when you have a good DJ, who is engaging, humorous and a good talker, there’s no denying that contribution to the listening experience.

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