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.