Monday, October 24, 2005

Over to the dark side

The other day, I casually mentioned to a public radio colleague that I had added myself to the growing rolls of subscribers to XM. I thought he'd be interested, since his show is actually broadcast over XM. But I detected more than a touch of scorn in his voice as he also noted you could hear his show for free, over the internet, as well. Forgetting for a moment that both alternatives aren't all that convenient - the show's on XM at 4 a.m. Pacific on Saturdays and I'm still on a dial-up modem at home - his reaction is pretty common among fellow public radio people.

There's a lot of concern about satellite radio -- not just in public radio circles, but among many local broadcasters, who basically worry about any new competition. But public radio broadcasters have some unique concerns; namely, that people will bypass their local station and just listen to their favorite programs via satellite. And when pledge drive comes along, all the totebags in the world won't save the local stations. So I thought long and hard about taking the leap.

Or at least short and soft. (I'll quit that metaphor before it starts to sound too suggestive.)

The problem with satellite radio is it pits two parts of the public radio person's psyche against one another: The need for self-preservation versus the need to have neat electronic gizmos. And above all, my little XM unit is a pretty neat gizmo, and definitely brightens up the interior of my '87 VW.

I've noticed that internal conflict in some of my other colleagues. I've met people at other stations who subscribed to satellite radio under the guise of "opposition research", along the lines of a political candidate giving money to his opponent so that he can receive campaign mailings. My boss, who has more than one iPod, has resisted the temptation thus far, but has also shown an uncanny interest in my radio, to the degree that he volunteered to take it on his upcoming vacation. (No.)

The excuse that finally made it easy for me (aside from the fact I got my radio as a gift) was NHL hockey game broadcasts. It's tough to be an Ottawa Senators fan in Flagstaff, Arizona. Perhaps it's not a hardship on par with what survivors of Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake in Pakistan are dealing with, but a challenge nonetheless.

The only national hockey broadcasts are now on the OLN Network, previously known only for endless Tour de France and bull riding telecasts. OLN is available on my local cable provider's digital cable package, which would be okay, except their schedule reveals no Senators games at all. The other option would be buying a TV satellite dish and then the NHL Center Ice package, but my 16-month old has probably seen too many beer commercials already without needing to see Canadian ones, too.

So I have XM for hockey broadcasts. And hey, if I have time, I might check out some of the other channels, though public radio still seems like a good option, compared to XM stations with names like "Fungus", "Squizz", and "Hank's Place". And after listening for the past few days - even as I was simultaneously on the airwaves in northern Arizona - I found nothing approaching the humor of Car Talk and Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!, or the breadth of Morning Edition. And so I imagine there will be a large place in people's listening habits for local public radio for years to come.

In fact, I'm listening to NPR's All Things Considered right now. And it'll stay on my radio, at least until the Senators-Hurricanes game starts. In ten minutes.

1 comment:

Carol Davidson said...

Congratulations on your most recent addition to the family!