News

Now hear this: Merger of XM and Sirius is music to listeners' ears

Buzz McClain
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

This month, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio merged their programming so that subscribers to either service would get the same channels. And I'm loving it.

I've had both services since they began because I despise what is on "terrestrial" radio. The repetition of hit songs, the shrill and repetitive talk shows and the lack of rich variety is depressing. Worse, the average FM station airs 23 minutes of commercials an hour between the mindless "morning zoo" blabbing and the stale hot hits.

When I learned in 2000 that XM was going to do for radio what cable did for television, I couldn't wait to get it in my car and house. When Sirius came along to provide competition that I thought was needless, I nonetheless signed up for that, too.

The costs were minimal - with the free months they give you for paying in advance, it worked out to about $10 a month per radio; I've got three - and I've never regretted it.

Where the parent companies of XM and Sirius went wrong, however, and began hemorrhaging billions of dollars was when they lost focus on what made them vital in the first place: an alternative to FM. If they had stayed with commercial-free music channels, they would have easily found an eager and willing audience, resulting in satisfied long-term subscribers.

But they couldn't resist expanding their horizons and spending bundles on mainstream programming. So, while Howard Stern initially brought thousands of new subscribers to Sirius, the same couldn't be said for the Oprah channel. Or Martha Stewart. Or National Public Radio, which is available in most markets.

The clutter resulted in dozens of commercial stations on both satellite providers that really didn't need to be there.

Sure, I could choose simply not to listen to any of them but, because hardly anyone else was either, they were becoming a drain on XM and Sirius. That led to the merger and inevitable programming shakeup that should make music fans happy. It has come at the expense of programmers and disc jockeys at Sirius in Manhattan and XM in Washington, D.C., who lost their jobs.

Music lovers now, however, have the best of both services on Sirius XM radio. Some highlights from just a few days of toggling through the new lineup that was introduced two weeks ago:

Two of my favorite 24-hour channels - Underground Garage, highlighting the fringe and the forgotten, and Outlaw Country, an eclectic collection of old, new and novelty, both programmed by "Little Steven" Van Zandt from the E Street Band and "The Sopranos," are now on XM as well as Sirius.

Tom Petty's remarkable rhythm & blues show "Buried Treasures" and Bob Dylan's ridiculously enlightening "Theme Time Radio Hour" are now on Sirius.

Elvis Radio, which features music, outtakes and anecdotes about the King, 24/7, is now on XM. And "Siriusly Sinatra" is also on XM now.

XM's lively POTUS, which was created to cover the presidential campaign, is now combined with Sirius' Indie Talk.

Bruce Springsteen's E Street Radio is now on XM, as well as the Eminem (so that's where he went) channel Shade 45. Jimmy Buffett fans can now tune in to Margaritaville on XM.

Blue Collar Radio, which features comedy from Bill Engvall, Larry the Cable Guy and others, is now on XM.

Sirius now has the phenomenal Absolutely Mindy on the Kids Place Live channel; Mindy is a wonderfully subversive personality who talks to kid callers between playing crossover children's music made by adult pop and rock stars. Parents will be as amused as the kids.

Sirius subscribers can now hear classic country as programmed by none other than Willie Nelson; it's an endless jukebox of the kind of American music Nashville abandoned in the '80s.

Sports fans are euphoric because the merger now means that Major League Baseball (XM) and the NFL (Sirius) are both available.

Of course, like cable TV, some of these added stations will be tiered and subscribers will have to pay more for them. But the good news is that the merger did not mean getting a new radio or subscribing again immediately.

You can access more stations now by going to either provider's Web site (www.xm.com; www.sirius.com) or wait until your subscription has to be renewed.

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