Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hey, Mr. XM: This blog can be bought!

It was a small box with a simple on/off knob, a dial to control the volume and one to switch between stations. This was my contact with the world of music late at night when I was a kid -- and it offered up a bit of magic.

In the 1960s, rock 'n roll and Motown were punching it out, releasing toe-tapping, lyrically light bits of fluff that defined a generation. It was my little radio -- actually a radio I shared with my brothers -- that brought tunes into our home and lives.

We lived in a tiny tract house, maybe 1,000 square feet if you included the front porch. It was covered in shingles, painted pea green, and included three small bedrooms, one smallish bathroom, living room, separate dining room and den.

The six of us -- my parents and four boys -- lived atop one another for nearly two decades there, thin walls hiding absolutely nothing. I had my first real taste of privacy when I was drafted into the army.

Each night my brothers and I scrambled into bed, tossing scuffed shoes and dirty socks onto the hardwood floors of the rooms we shared. Each of us had a chest of drawers -- two in one room, two in the other. But that was just a resting place for our clothes. It seems odd now, remembering those years, that there wasn't a room that any of us thought of as ours. We often slept where we fell; sometimes three of us bundled into one double bed, while one of us stretched out regally in the other room, enjoying a night of relative privacy.

And there was the radio, crackling with static and the banter of a DJ, mixed with the hypnotic hum of a window fan in summer and the whoosh of a nearby floor furnace in winter.

There was also fighting and shoving, giggling and whispers, all played out to the rhythmic sounds of Aretha Franklin and The Kingsmen, The Rolling Stones and Beach Boys, Elvis, The Beatles, Wilson Pickett and James Brown -- The Godfather of Soul and, undeniably, the hardest working man in show business.

Can you hear it? Can you feel it? Can you, ahhh, dig it?

For years I couldn't. Music became mostly background noise in my life, a slight distraction when I was driving; a quiet melody at movies that filled time when the actors weren't acting; loud, irritating banging at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other such celebrations.

And then I got an ipod for my birthday a few years ago and rediscovered the magic. Now I carry around a music library that fits in the palm of my hand. Aretha, Elvis and The Beatles are once again part of my life. So, too, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, Nina Simone, Reba McEntire, Dire Straits and Coldplay.

All this talk of music and musicians is on my mind today because I recently ratcheted up the magic, trying out satellite radio, courtesy of a new car and a three-month free offer from the folks at XM.

Aretha and the Beach Boys are all over channel 6. Elvis and Frank, thank you very much, have their own channels and On Broadway is filled with O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, and other such tunes. Nashville has a twangy, country spot, right close to Willie's Place and Bluegrass Junction.

There's also Liquid Metal and Classic Vinyl, Soft Rock and Cool Jazz. To be sure there's plenty that I'll never touch -- 1st Wave and Hair Nation, Octane, Boneyard and Lithium. Don't have a clue if such channels are offering music, beauty products or drugs.

The icing on the cake, at least for me, a guy who made his living playing with words and managing the news, is the all-talk channels -- CNN, Fox, NPR and BBC Radio 1. That's the short list since I've just about run out of letters of the alphabet. Now if I could just manage to cram my brothers into the backseat of my car, it would be like deju vu all over again.

And, no, the folks at XM didn't pay me to write this. Of course, for the right price I'd have no problem changing the name of this blog to This&That&XM. Just a thought!


  1. I listen to channel 46 Classic Vinyl, Channel 49, Channel 51 and of course Channel 58 - Bruce Radio

  2. Ron...I remember the bedroom, the window fan and the radio's an excerpt from a journal I wrote a number of years ago after daddy died...."We would leave the windows up in the rooms that didn’t have air-conditioning, and the window fan would blow air into those rooms. I don’t remember it being hot during the summer, but I am sure it had to be. I remember one night when the three of us were going to sleep. The room was dark and there was a cool breeze coming through the window. I remember that room as having one double bed, but there had to be another bed or cot in the room. I don’t think we were all in the same bed, but maybe were. We had a white clock radio that had a small round orange light that mesmerized me. Through the dark shadows and silhouettes, it was neat to look at the small orange light. We listened to music that night as the window shears rippled in the light summer breeze and the orange light emanated from the radio. I remember songs like Peggy Sue, The Pretender, Hound Dog, and A Town without Pity. I don’t remember our conversations during the night, but they had to be about boy things like baseball or football, maybe we told ghost stories or talked about our dreams and ambitions. I do remember us laughing and giggling. All I know is that night was real and it was as close to perfection as you can get."


  3. What, pay for music that used to be free? Next, you will want be to buy water and cable TV," said my father. Ultimately, he bought all three, but the XM radio was his favorite. To my mother's dismay, he listened almost 24/7.

    Speaking of free, try Pandora or Slacker internet customized channel radio for home use. You can play through your computer, several specialized devices, or many of the newer Blu Ray DVD players. For about $5/month you can get a premium subscription which allows you to really zero in on your favorites.