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Satellite radio (“The Sky Is Calling,” 2/16) appears to be the long-awaited return of the “alternative” or “free-form” radio that some of us may have experienced during the ’70s in this area, and which died in 1979 with the sudden (politically motivated) demise of Georgetown University’s publicly supported WGTB-FM (“Radio Free Georgetown,” 1/19/99). My current eclectic taste in music was born in and owes a great deal to that era. Currently, I only listen to a few minutes of public radio during my 20-minute commute to work each way. When I want to listen to music in the car, I put in one of my own mix tapes, compiled from my vast music collection. I’ve grown tired of this and wish I didn’t have to work so hard to get decent music in my car. Although I might fit into some demographic as a likely candidate to sign up for the XM or Sirius service, they won’t get my $9.95 anytime soon.
These new ventures are a tremendous gamble in a marketplace where a constantly changing landscape of delivery systems for mass media, message, and voice communication breeds much skepticism. The hipsters at the helm of these companies appear to be a little out of touch with the very market they need to reach and be successful withthe ones who have never experienced the kind of radio programming that launched FM and who therefore don’t know what they’re missing and might not care, the ones whose music collections are on their hard drives. Why are they going to start paying for radio?
I’m sure, if asked, most people would say they would want a much richer radio experience, with more choices than what’s available. However, it never fails that the general public, with its lack of a finely tuned and enlightened aesthetic, awaiting a cue from some marketing campaign to tell it what to consume, will continue to make the same safe choices it always has. That is, until someone points it in a different direction and tells it it’s cool. Meanwhile, a handful of people will be listening to the more adventurous programming, as they always have. Then, the same bottom-line concerns that dictate conventional radio programming will probably govern the programming on these new satellite stations as well. Goodbye, DJ Redbeard.
As I’m writing this letter on my computer at home, I’m listening to a selected play list from gigabytes of MP3s stored on my hard drive, converted from a very small part of the CDs in my varied collection. I have this same setup at my office. It’s commercial-free, and I like the DJ. For me to even consider buying into satellite technology, I need to see it successfully move outside of the automobile, into the home and portable devices. (I don’t live in my car.) One hundred TV channels haven’t convinced me that I need cable or satellite TV yet. So why should I pay for radio?
Despite my skepticism, I actually hope that the new satellite radio stations are a success. It’s time for radio to undergo a radical transformation. I hope they can deliver on their promise.
Silver Spring, Md.