XM on Trial

A friend of mine is an XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR  ) apostle and he is going to get everyone he knows to subscribe to the service. His one-man, grassroots campaign reminds me of that old shampoo commercial where he tells two friends who then tell two friends, and so on and so on until XM Satellite reaches its goal of 1.2 million subscribers by, well, tomorrow.

His crusade starts right here, folks.

He purchased a second unit, added a subscription to his plan ($6.99 a month for current subscribers -- a $3 savings), and even came over and hooked it up to my stereo. "Try it out for two months and just see what you think," he said, gushing about all the new music I'd hear and what amazing reception I had in my apartment.

Then he left and I turned off the radio and put on a CD.

Gadgets, shmadgets
I imagine that the execs rocking out at the XM offices don't have me in mind when they announced their goal to pipe tunes to 1.2 million converts by the end of this year.

I am not a gadget person. When it comes to technology, I am what friends affectionately refer to as a "late-to-never adopter." I got my first CD player five years ago. My microwave was made in the early 1990s and my toaster in the 1950s (though the latter is more of an aesthetic choice). I don't subscribe to cable TV, a newspaper, or even an Internet provider. (I dial up through AOL -- paid for by my employer -- via modem when I work from home.) A Palm Pilot from days of yore (a gift from someone who clearly doesn't know me well) sits unused in my desk drawer. I have a cell phone, but I haven't bothered programming phone numbers into it. What if I lose the phone or the numbers get wiped out? I'll have to make all new friends!

Don't get me wrong. My avoidance comes not from some morally superior Luddite belief that the world was a better place before Fruit Roll Ups and Comedy Central. I'm not one of those people who brag about not watching TV. I am all about bad network TV. (Please don't call during Average Joe 2.)

The only reason I don't get cable is because it is like crack cocaine to people like me -- I'll be instantly drawn into an ever-deepening spiral of viewing pleasure, growing pallid and drawn because I never leave my darkened house. The antidote is TiVo, which would enable me to watch all the Trading Spaces and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy episodes at my convenience. And if I'm going to go that far, I really need a plasma TV and, and, and...

We're talking at least 10 grand for me to kick-start a cable TV habit.

So when my friend put me at the top of the XM religion pyramid, I let him know that I was the hardest sell he'd have. "Resistance is futile," he said as he left. (Or at least that's what I thought he said.)

The unit sat untouched for an entire week before I finally grabbed the remote and gave it a whirl.

Striking a chord
With station guide in hand, I clicked right over to Channel 50, "The Loft," where the likes of John Hiatt, Rufus Wainwright, Nick Lowe, The Kinks, Jack-O-Pierce (Are they still around? Cool.), Aimee Mann, Lloyd Cole, and a little too much Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac were in rotation.

I instantly got it: XM Radio was made for me! I'm a bit of a lazy music snob: My CD and record (yes, those vinyl thingies) collection consists of old, off-the-beaten-path bands. I rely on my plugged-in MP3-downloading friends to clue me into new stuff, which I test-drive first by borrowing their CDs for what I am told is way, way too long. I play the cello with local folk musicians and go out to see live music when it's not on a school night or too far out of my way.

XM Radio has an entire station devoted to unsigned bands; hosts musicians in its studios live (No crowds! No lines to the bar!), and most channels are blissfully commercial-free (or virtually so). The first few times an announcer's voice came on, I was slightly startled. I had been lulled into song after uninterrupted song. The voices that did surface briefly but a few times an hour were like some disembodied, all-knowing creature from the sci-fi movie Gattaca.

I hear the future, and it sounds a lot like satellite radio.

Between rock and a hard sell
So here I am, three weeks into my XM intervention. I have explored exactly three XM stations (I'm not much of a channel surfer), and discovered a few new bands. I finally checked the online programming schedule and noted some cool shows that I'll tune into if I'm around.

I admit that as far as gadgets go, this one is pretty compelling. Regular radio seems more facile than ever.

Still, I'm not sold yet, unlike a few of my colleagues. I have a list of justifications for not subscribing to radio that start with this: "Subscribe to radio? I don't even have cable TV!"

My resistance then trickles into excuses about the services that I would pay for but not use much. The newer models can go from home to car to boom box in a snap. The problem is, I walk to work and rarely take road trips. For my short drives, I usually just turn off the radio when the blaring Shaw's Jewelry commercial comes on, or push in the cassette -- yes, a cassette tape -- of the dB's that's at the ready in my car's tape player.

In the end, it comes back to one thing: I just don't see myself as a radio subscriber. When I used to interview diamond dealers in a former writing life, they told me that engineers and architects always bought the most perfect diamonds they had. I have a hunch that the same folks who buy D VVS1 diamonds are tuning into XM Satellite Radio.

Me? I get by just fine with wearing mottled turquoise stones. But now that I've gotten an earful of the good life, I hope that the cravings aren't too overwhelming when my friend presents this XM unit to his next victim in February.

Dayana Yochim wrote this column with tunes from "The Loft" playing softly in the background. She owns no shares of XM Satellite Radio, but her friend who is trying to convert her says he owns an embarrassing number.


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