Monday, June 12, 2006

The Conversion is Complete

So, I finally decided to stop paying lip service to XM and actually pony up the dough and become a subscriber. I have been touting the company's product for a couple of years now, basically praising vicariously through snippets gleaned from listening to other people's XM radios. When my mom bought her new car last year, and it came with a free three month subscription to XM, I was hooked. There's simply no comparison to the the musical choice on a satellite service compared to regular terrestrial radio, and, between XM and Sirius, XM has better music choices. Plus, they're a local company that hired a few of my old radio pals. They seemed like the logical choice.

After a week of listening to all sorts of indie rock on XMU, post club electronica on Chill, great modern rock on the Verge, Fred and Ethel (I love the names of the stations!), unedited comedy on the laugh channels, sports talk and the complete and utter lack of annoying commercials, XM decided to *REALLY* impress me last night. Driving back to Northern Virginia from Southern Maryland, I took a break from XMU to catch a traffic report on WTOP, 103.5 FM in DC. "A traffic report on a Sunday night at 10pm?" Welcome to the harsh driving reality of DC - with the new Wilson Bridge opening for business and a multi-billion dollar reconstruction of the Beltway and 395 about 5 miles from my rental, middle of the night weekend traffic jams are to be expected. WTOP does "Traffic and Weather Together on the Eights" - every ten minutes, 24 hours a day, you can get an updated traffic report.

If the traffic was light, I wanted to check out the new bridge. I pay taxes; that sucker is 1/7,534,835th mine, I figure. I want my share.

The young lady mentioned a small accident in Northern Virginia, a couple of road closures in the District, and one accident in Montgomery County. No mention of anything on the Beltway. I stuck through WTOP to catch 10 minutes of news as well, get caught up on the world. I caught a second traffic report. Everything seemed smooth.

As I pulled from MD Route 4 to 495, I looked at four lanes of parking lot. Nobody on the Beltway was moving towards Virginia. Fortunately, the 4/495 interchange is a cloverleaf, and upon seeing the several mile backup, I could simply drive around the cloverleaf to get back to MD 4 and head into DC on Pennsylvania Avenue. 103.5's third traffic report once again did not mention what looked to be a Really Big Delay on the biggest road in the region.

I decided to see what XM was playing again, and saw the full time Weather/Traffic station for Washington. I gave it a chance - the announcer mentioned that there was a delay on the Beltway from Pennsylvania Avenue (where I was) all the way around to the Wilson Bridge - basically, a ten+ mile backup. Average speed, about 5mph.

I would have gotten home sometime around the next Presidential Administration.

One of terrestrial radio's selling points is "locality." They sell it to advertisers, convince potential listeners on the idea that they present the local viewpoint, get local shoppers to hear your message, to expose your locality to the world.

Yet, the ultimate local news station was trumped by the cold, souless satelitte broadcaster...noting ironically that the XM studios are 10 miles closer to the traffic backup than WTOPs.

TECHIE NOTE - I bought the Tao XM2Go portable on sale at Target. It stores 5 hours of XM programming, and can be used to receive live programming in the car, home, or while walking around. It's a bit bigger than an iPod, but also comes with a slightly cumbersome external antenna. It has a built-in FM transmitter to make for a wireless connection to your car or home stereo.

For the price point, I'm not mad about the device, but I'm thinking I should have gone with the new Pioneer Inno which stores a gig of mp3s AND is a live XM receiver AND is a lot smaller. It's a couple hundred dollars more than the Tao, but probably would have been the smarter buy.

Still...I can't complain when I've head better music with one week of XM than I have on commercial radio all year.

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