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Sonic Boom: Sirius, XM And Life In A Rented Hyundai

Mike is down on satellite radio...and not JUST because of Rob Dibble...


I’ve got this song stuck in my head by The Hold Steady. The song is called “Sequestered in Memphis,” from the band’s last album, Stay Positive. Do you know that song? It’s a great song. They’re a great band. But that’s not the point. I have the song in my head because of its second verse, which includes the following lines:

“I think she drove a new Mustang/ I guess it might be a rental/ I remember she had satellite radio…”

Do I think those lines are especially insightful or profound? No, I do not. I think they are pretty good, insofar as they use a couple of nicely chosen details to help tell the story—about a man who goes to Memphis on business and winds up being questioned by police (I’m pretty sure he’s a suspect in a murder investigation, though that’s not made explicit)—but no, I do not think they are especially insightful or profound. I have them in my head, though, because at present I too am driving a rental—not a new Mustang but a new-ish Hyundai Sonata—and my rental does indeed have satellite radio.


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(An aside: Do all rentals have satellite radio? Is that a thing now? Is that why he says that in the song? I must say, it’s pretty cool! Conversely, do any normal not-a-rental cars have satellite radio? I suppose they must, right? So then why does that lyric ring true? Does it even ring true? Is it just a coincidence? I’m sincerely curious. But anyway.)

Why am I driving a rental, you ask? Great question! I would like to tell you that I am currently stranded in Florida, still recovering from an unbelievable Daytona 500. Or perhaps in New Orleans, still hung over and wild-eyed after a raucous and insane Mardi Gras. However, I am in neither of those places. No, in fact, I am right here, as always, and driving a rental because the wheels were stolen off my new pre-owned Toyota vehicle—yes, right off the damned axle—and now that vehicle is in the shop, waiting to have new wheels slapped on. So I’m living in the lap of luxury, driving a Hyundai, listening to radio from outer space.

This is not entirely a new experience for me: A few years ago, I was an XM Radio subscriber. (NB: At that time, XM stock was, like, $30 a share; now, it’s almost a buck!) Needless to say, I let that subscription lapse when I realized my money was better spent on things like, I dunno, scratch-off tickets or baseball cards or Webkinz. This is not because I was especially put off by any specific programming on any of the satellite stations made available to me, but because the programming in which I was most interested was not, in fact, very…interesting.

I mean this specifically as it regards music programming (though I’m happy to point out that XM’s baseball radio station—MLB Home Plate—plays host to some of the most irrelevant and least intelligent baseball discussion I’ve ever heard). I found that the XM music stations that play the music I tend to listen to most—heavy metal, indie rock and pop—weren’t really built for serious music listeners. They’re better than what’s available on terrestrial radio, but to me they still felt superficial and random. They play a nice variety of semi-obscure music, but they don’t often play the best semi-obscure music. Like, why would you listen to, say, Darkest Hour when you could be listening to Nokturnal Mortum, right? Why would you listen to Interpol when you could be listening to Eluvium? And so on. I don’t necessarily expect you to agree—because I don’t expect you to have opinions on those bands—but that’s why I stopped caring about satellite radio: For me, it didn’t go deep enough, and it then frustrated me to think that someone out there was getting paid to have (and share) such benign taste. Paid with my subscription money, no less. So I voted with my wallet and moved on.

Of course, now that I’m not the one paying, I love it! Well, I don’t love it, but it makes paying 60 bucks a day to drive a Sonata that much easier to swallow. And I do like it. Here’s what I like:

Being able to hear Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” at any second of the day. Because while I have that song on my iPod, I never remember to listen to it, and it’s great! And there is always some satellite station that is playing it. Go ahead, right now, check it out. Try to prove me wrong. You can’t do it!

The fact that I heard “Frozen Lakes on Mars,” off the new album from Ihsahn, the former vocalist of classic black metal band Emperor, on XM’s Liquid Metal station. How cool is that? You will not hear that song on terrestrial radio any time soon. Promise. And it’s a fantastic song! I mean, again, it’s on my iPod, so I can listen to it whenever I want, but I got a charge out of seeing it on my radio dial. Anyway.

Rob Dibble on the MLB Home Plate morning show. Actually, I don’t like this at all. In fact, it drives me out of my mind. Because Rob Dibble’s baseball acumen would get him laughed out of any decent fantasy-baseball message board, yet he’s somehow made a decent career out of espousing totally ignorant points of view on a radio show that must have at least a hundred listeners at any given time. Which wouldn’t be quite so bad if he were even an adequate host, however, he’s awkward, dull-witted and horribly uncomfortable.

Still, they’re talking baseball in February. Which is really the only reason to subscribe to satellite radio. And, I admit, it ain’t much of a reason.

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