Nostalgic Rumblings
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The End of XM, and why I’m screwed.

Filed under: Radio Today — Charlie Summers @ 10:58 am

Now that the XM/Sirius merger has been approved by regulators who are supposed to look out for the American people but who instead are more interested in whoever has the money, it’s time to start the tributes for a dead industry. Oh, I know what the companies are saying, that they’ll emerge “stronger and better able to face the future,” but the truth is, now instead of one of the two companies finally going into bankruptcy, the sole remaining monopolistic company will fail and take the entire industry down with it, driven primarily by one man’s foolishness in giving an aging frat boy a half-billion dollars he never had in the first place.

As you probably figured out by now, I have been against this foolish merger from the get-go. It would have made a whole lot more sense to allow one of the companies to fail badly (HINT: not XM, since between the two it had a better chance of survival), to be picked up at bargain-basement prices by a new company with intelligent management who truly loved radio. Yeah, I know, but one can dream, can’t one? I mean, can you imagine what satellite radio could be like if there were two companies competing for the best sound and deepest playlists instead of who could throw the most money at tv personalities to kludge their stuff into low-bandwidth radio channels? Two companies who actually loved and knew radio?

Ok, so that ship has sailed; now former XM subscribers are forced to help pay off Hoo-Hoo and will be subject to the programming wizardry of Mel Karmazin, meaning shallower playlists and fewer niche channels…but you can bet there will be more major-label-sponsored single-artist channels (pioneered by Karmazin and already overused by XM even before the merger), wasting the bandwidth that could be used for small-based niche channels (anyone remember Lee Abrams’s extraordinary Special X?).

And then there’s the other side of the equation…lousy sound quality. The bitrate on the channels continues to fall…133’s The Bob Edwards Show is sounding anecdotally worse, with more of those compressed “Sssss” sounds than before - admittedly, the quality has gone up-and-down over the years as bandwidth is limited, then compression schemes are improved, then bandwidth is limited, ad nausium, but it seems to me it’s getting worse again.

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