Many of us in DC know that DC radio stations suck. What is especially jarring about DC radio is that this is a huge college town. College towns are supposed to have great radio stations. That was certainly true when I lived in Atlanta and Boston.
So last year I decided to get either satellite radio or an iPod for my car. After some investigation, I quickly learned that there are two types of people -- satellite radio people and iPod people. The iPod people are comprised mostly of control freaks and Germans, between which there is much overlap. I'm part Austrian, so I can say this. The iPod people want to program the soundtrack to every minute of their lives, and are prepared to spend hours in front of the computer doing so. A generation ago, the iPod people would have had little lime green plastic file boxes containing recipes that they wrote on index cards. Maybe they still do. The iPod people do not like surprises.
I am one of the satellite radio people. We do not measure ingredients in recipes or coffee in our coffee makers. We are the Forrest Gumps of music -- we enjoy being surprised and just want a high-quality box of musical choc-o-lates. The best surprise occurred when my friend "Juan" (featured in my previous post "Super Chicken and the Immigration Battle") purchased the Delphi XM Roady 2 satellite radio receiver for me and other friends and relatives last fall as an early Christmas present. I have been enjoying my subscription to DC-based XM Satellite Radio at thirteen bucks a month ever since. The inexpensive Roady has 30 station presets for those of us who are part Austrian and thus like to enforce at least some level of control over things. Juan, on the other hand, surfs through the 150-plus channels in ascending order, in an impressive surrender of control.
XM's channel lineup contains just about anything one could desire. (I am not familiar with rival provider Sirius, but I'm sure it offers a similar array of programming.) XM names its channels, and some of my favorites are Lucy ("classic alternative hits"), Fred ("deep classic alternative") and Ethel ("90s and today's alternative"). We're talking a lot of 80s and 90s here, and the surprises are many. Aside from staples such as the Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode and The Verve, the music ranges into the rarer "Possum Kingdom" by the Toadies, and the truly obscure but supremely gratifying "Got You Where I Want You" by The Flys. The best new song I have heard in recent months on Ethel has got to be "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse.
When I really want to crank up the volume, I head to the Boneyard on channel 41. It's XM's heavy metal repository. If I'm lucky, I'll hear "Master of Puppets" by Metallica, or the classic "Stranglehold" by Ted Nugent. On less fortunate days I might get the "W" bands (you know, Whitesnake, White Lion, Warrant, Winger). When traffic is bad and I don't want to become any more aggravated, I migrate to the appropriately named Chill (channel 84) for some ultra lounge. When it's time to feed the mind a bit, there's Air America featuring the hilarious Al Franken and the didactic Randi Rhodes (note to political bloggers and to self: being funny is entertaining and effective; being didactic is often excruciating). For those on the right, there is a conservative talk channel as well.
I have also left out channels featuring jazz, blues, sports, news, Christian, gospel, classical, and just about everything else. Satellite radio is a welcome, surprise-filled alternative to the wasteland of commercial DC radio, and should satisfy everyone. Except the control freaks.