Oprah, Martha, and Howard Stern are Homeless

Sirius XM Satellite Radio is filing for bankruptcy. Back in the early 2000s, it seemed like the future of radio: Sirius and XM, each with hundreds of channels, ready to take you from shock jocks to swing bands to comedy to grunge to electronica with a flick of the wrist. I remember recording an on-air interview with one of their dozens of talk shows at their Manhattan HQ, a veritable sweatshop of studios down a long hallway: One had a grand piano, one had a Playboy bunny, one was probably full of dancing bears.

But in the end, the smorgasbord of choices, even including a thick incrustation of celebrities like Stern, just didn't entice enough of America's ears. There are lots of theories why: The expense and inconvenience of combining a $150 piece of hardware—or several, if you want to listen at home and in your car—with a monthly service contract. The robotic, generic onslaught of dozens of channels, which completely wastes the intimate, conversational quality of radio. The rise of the iPod and podcasting.

To me, the strongest reason satellite radio never caught on is that radio is not like television.  People like to have hundreds of TV channels because it's a passive activity for which expectations are generally set really low. Flipping through the stations is, of course, a form of TV watching in itself, and the longer it goes on, the more your feeling of mild, soporific amusement can continue.

But for most people who care about music, having hundreds of different stations is just annoying, because you only really enjoy a few of them. You don't need to surf channels—the three-minute pop song is good enough for even the worst ADD. And really, you'd usually rather choose specific songs and artists. Once again, the iPod is the killer app here.  Or, if you truly don't care what you listen to and only want it to be vaguely familiar and hummable, you can try Jack-FM, the most popular radio format of the last decade. Jack mixes hits from the 60s through now. It's like putting all the other radio stations on shuffle.

It seems that the media nuclear winter is not only endangering wonderful quality media that we all want to have survive, it's also killing stuff that nobody cares passionately about. See also: Muzak, which also filed for bankruptcy today.

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  • Mike Buckley

    First off, I am not a Sirius shareholder, nor am I an employee of the company. I do, however, have free Sirius from the purchase of a new car. As I was reading this article (and even the title), it became crystal clear that the writer is ignorant about much of what is written here.

    1. She says "But for most people who care about music, having hundreds of different stations is just annoying, because you only really enjoy a few of them."

    Read this statement twice, and you realize it makes absolutely no sense. Actually, it sounds absurd. More choice of something you love, is a bad thing? Also, on traditional radio, you may have one station you like out of 20, and that is all you get. Conversely, it takes 100 stations to find three, four or five you like. You get that with satellite radio. I don't know what kind of radio market she is in, but in most of America there are only a dozen or so real traditional radio stations. Very little choice and you will be lucky to find a good fit to your style (i.e. old country, bluegrass, jazz - you get that on traditional???? No!)

    3. She states in her title that Martha, Opra, and Stern are homeless. First, just because a company declares bankruptcy does not mean they go out of business. The much more likely ending to this scenario is that the company reorganizes, which essentially means nothing happens to the service. It continues. The shareholders will, however, lose most if not all of their investment.

    4.She states that the robotic, generic onslaught of dozens of channels, completely wastes the intimate, conversational quality of radio.

    Huh? Are you listening to music or a talk show? This statement makes no sense. The last thing I want to hear on my favorite music station is the dj trying to give away two tickets to the Bon Jovi concert. Gag. If I want to listen to an intimate talk show, I have a myriad of options on satellite radio.
    drum roll...and now my favorite...

    1. She says that the service never caught on.

    20,000,000 suscribers is not "caught-on"? The immensely popular Netflix, for example, closed out the year with 9.4 million suscribers, and Direct TV with 17.6 million subsribers.

    I don't know, but when I read this article it really annoyed me, so much so that I just spent 15 minutes out of my day to rant about it.