Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Satellites Killed The Radio Star, But Then Again....

A JP Morgan survey found most people turn to satellite radio for the lack of commercials and not because it offers original content.
But that shouldn't be taken as bad news for those of us who've been disenfranchised by "terrestrial" radio and have embraced XM and Sirius for delivering salvation from the calcified remains of the airwaves.
On the one hand, broadcasters have only themselves to blame for the growth in satellite radio. Industry consolidation and fear of innovation have led stations to put songs on only after they have been researched, consulted and focus grouped to death. Most deejays, at least those who are live and not doing voice tracks, are scared robots reading cards who only dream about being creative.
But while Clear Channel and Infinity and the like have sucked the fun and wonder out of radio, they also continually added commercials, to the point where sometimes over 20 minutes an hour would be handed over to spots. Not only did you hear shitty songs, you heard fewer of them.
Recently, Clear Channel admitted its advertisers were victims of their own wretched excess and announced it would reduce spot loads in many markets --- though it also raised rates for advertisers "lucky" to get on the air.
Still, it's apparently not enough for many listeners who've scaled back or essentially eliminated the time spent listening to commerical stations. JP Morgan forecasts XM and Sirius will have 35 million customers by 2010.
Yet, as delightful as a continual flow of music is, it's hard to believe the absence of spots is the main reason millions of people are willing to shell out $10-$13 a month for satellite. Could Sirius have made a serious $500 million mistake betting on Howard Stern to lead them to the promised land, or at least their first profitable quarter?
It's also hard to fathom a nation that only wants to hear the Top 40 played over again without benefit of Clearisil and Budweiser ads. All those satellite channels means there's bound to be something for everyone. And what a something it is.
Among XM's offerings are adult alternative channels The Loft and XM Cafe that sound awfully like modern-day versions of the freeform progressive stations from the 60s and 70s, when buying a transistor radio with FM cost extra. You felt part of something special, and it was.
Not that their modern offspring aren't carefully thought out and programmed. But the range of music they offer, giving credit to listeners who want to hear things new and different while playing deep cuts that unearth tracks long since relegated to distant memories makes for compelling radio.
Another XM channel, called Fred (there's also Ethel and Lucy), focuses on the New Wave vanguards from the late 70s and early 80s. Only on satellite could the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" still segue into "Blank Generation" from Richard Hell and the Voidoids. It's the same kind of I put on music I put on while residing in the utopia that was high school and college radio twentysomething years ago. It's not just nostalgia that's in play, just some damn good tracks that deserve a good home.
Simply put, XM and Sirius offer radio for people who hate radio.
However, don't expect Clear Channel to be running scared anytime soon. JP Morgan expects satellite to eat into only 3.5 percent of the terrestrial audience over the next five years. But the report also noted that those who have satellite spend two-thirds of their listening time with XM or Sirius.
But if, or more likely, when that percentage starts to inch upward, don't be surprised to see commercial broadcasters looking to the sky and cursing their rivals, when all they have to do is look in the mirror to find out what went so horribly wrong.

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