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Can radio worth listening to be saved?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted February 3, 2003

This Christmas was almost like the Christmas of 1957. Back then, I had made it known that the one thing I wanted that year was the Lionel New Haven electric locomotive with working pantographs. We opened all our presents, my mother, my father, my grandmother, my Uncle Ralph and I. I received lots of clothes for a sophomore in high school but nothing much I was excited about. Of course, I had to act pleased. Everything was finished and there was no locomotive. I could hardly disguise my disappointment. We were just about to clean up everything when my mother went way in back of the tree, reached under the tree holder guard, and pulled out one last present. "I almost forgot this," she said as she handed me a box that had the shape and weight of that Lionel locomotive. Sure enough it was. That made everything else seem good. In my household, any show of emotion was frowned upon, but I couldn't help but hug her.

Well, this year, I received all sorts of wonderful gifts that families give you. I have an especially thoughtful family so the presents fit. I was very pleased but there was nothing that I received would be likely to remember unaided by next Christmas. It had been the best Christmas of our lives, with all five of our children and all ten grandchildren with us. We were exhausted and as soon as the last person left we went right to bed.

The next morning my wife said to me "I almost forgot this." In fact, she had forgotten it Christmas day. It was a couple of boxes and I must say I couldn't imagine what anybody could get me at this stage in life that would be memorable.

Well, I'll tell you I will always recall Christmas 2002 on account of this present. It was the XM satellite radio and receiver.

It turned out we didn't have a boom box for that particular radio so we had to get on the internet to find a new one to purchase. A few days later, my son Andrew was kind enough to set it up. We could subscribe on-line for a $10 set up fee and $10 a month for the service. I am even more giddy about it than I was about that locomotive.

There are 101 channels. About a third of them I will likely never tune into unless I am doing some sort of bizarre research. I'm not exactly into Neo-Soul, Rap, Acid Rock or even Christian Rock.

But to my delight there is one channel which plays show tunes 24 hours a day. For three hours you can even call in and request them. No commercials mind you. I called in and asked for a song from "Call Me Madam," the 1952 hit starring Ethel Merman. Sure enough I got "The Hostess with the Mostest on the Ball." A companion channel plays nothing but soundtracks from famous movies. Then there is the channel that plays nothing but music from the 1940s. Actually, they throw in a few numbers from the 1930s as well, like Benny Goodman version of "Let's Dance."

Anyway, I just love it. They even do it up with a train theme, with all sorts of railroad sounds and memories of great passenger trains, always leaving from Track Four (channel four).There is a channel from the '50s too and every decade through the '90s but I don't go much higher than the '60s if that. There is a channel called "On the Rocks," which has a terrific mixture of all of our favorites down through the years. The pops channel is very uplifting and the classics channel is outstanding. I haven't tried it yet, but there is a fulltime channel just for love songs. There is also a "Beautiful Music Channel." There are five different channels playing jazz and blues, six channels for country, bluegrass and folk music.

If you can't tear yourself away from the news, there are no fewer than 11 channels, ranging from the BBC World Service, to Fox News, to the ABC talk channel where I can pick up Sean Hannity's radio show. C-SPAN, the weather channel, CNN, Bloomberg and CNBC (but not MSNBC Yea!) are all covered. There are likewise five sports channels including NASCAR racing, ESPN, and other Sports/Talk and play by play channels. There are entertainment channels, old time radio shows, the Trucker's Channel (I can't wait) and even a Christian talk channel.

I haven't had so much fun in years and every day I discover something new I like better about the service.

XM Radio is, at this stage, an experiment. Investors have funded it for another year but by then there need to be enough subscribers for home or auto or this wonderful new kind of radio will fade from the scene.

Somehow I think there will be enough people who are willing to part with $10 a month that this will work. The operation is run out of the Washington D.C. area and this configuration may just save radio...the kind that was worth listening to. I don't know, but if that is indeed the case I will be profoundly grateful...and probably still a bit giddy.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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