In magazines with an active letters from readers section, you can almost count on having one “Cancel my subscription!” entry each issue. The problem usually involves: 1. one of the writers displaying too much political bias (this seems to make some readers especially crazy, particularly in non-political publications), 2. too much profanity in an article (shocking!!) or 3. a perceived slight against a reader’s favorite artist.
I’ve always enjoyed the editor’s response in Stereophile — they seem to have many creative ways saying “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out!” Note that I’ve almost never been sympathetic to these people. As long as the copy is interesting, I don’t have to agree with the content. And too much profanity? C’mon, you’re kidding…right?
But now I’m pissed off. I got in the car this morning, switched on my Sirius radio, and noticed that the little box went into a channel update. No big deal, as that’s happened many times before. Besides, I was there to listen to that last hour or so of Howard Stern.
On the way home though, the gravity of the situation hit me: I couldn’t find my favorite channel — Disorder. Hmmm…maybe I just forgot my preset button? Well, I couldn’t remember the real channel number so I listened to a CD on the way home, making a mental note to check the Sirius website when I got home.
Turns out that the Sirius/XM merger was going to hit more than just the back offices. The new channel lineup has been announced and the devices have been updated. It’s understandable that there would be some fallout from the merger. This is corporate America, after all. But I’m here to tell you, Sirius executive and programming-type people, that you’ve shot yourselves in the foot, if not the heart.
Disorder was the one channel that set you apart, not only from XM, but from all radio. It was a modern throwback to the early days of FM radio, when a DJ could play absolutely anything. Before the merger, I lobbied for friends to chose Sirius, Disorder being one of the high points of their offerings.
Now, you might be wondering how I can be so fixated on a single channel. Well, were else can you hear a segue from the opera of Maria Calas to the seminal punk of The Ramones? From the scorching assault of John Zorn to the blurpy fun of the experimental Fuck Buttons? It was the eclecticism, the lack of a playlist that drew me in. Meg Griffin’s love of new music. Larry Kirwan (of the group Black 47) introduced me to tons of interesting artists. Lou Reed and Hal Wilner’s “New York Shuffle” offered a grab bag of out-there content. David Johansen’s “Mansion of Fun” was similarly erudite.
For years, as FM radio became more and more bland, we made fun of the consultants. The research and the numbers theoretically maximized ratings, while managing to homogenize the “product.” Playlists tighted. DJ’s vanished, replaced by automated stations. This all hit home to me one time when I was visiting my in-laws in central Maine. I had on the FM station I used to listen to back in high school and it happened to be the anniversary of the death of Bob Marley. The DJ made note of it, and mentioned that he wasn’t actually allowed to play any Marley. The closest he could get was Clapton’s version of “I Shot The Sheriff.” Great, huh?
I’m thinking that one of my two subscriptions has to go. I’ll keep the one in the car, as I do like keeping up on the Stern thing. But the radio in the kitchen? What’s the point? Yes, I realize that I’m not giving the entire new lineup a fair shake, but this particular change is a symbolic step in the wrong direction.
Well, the bean-counters have had their day. Again. Disorder is gone. The move feels a lot like what happened with FM. The new channel listing suggests, as a fan of Disorder, I might like “The Loft.” I turned it on this evening and the first tune they were playing was something by Carly Simon. C’mon, you’re kidding…right?