December 13, 2005

Bob vs. Howard

XM Satellite Radio has just done the one thing that could get me to go with them over Sirius and Howard Stern: signed Bob Dylan to host a show.

I can't imagine how much money they're putting in Bob's pocket for this venture, but I'm willing to bet that the real appeal for him is that he won't have to do much work. I can't imagine that he'll go into a studio or anything. Most likely he'll come up with a list of songs each week -- or maybe even a master list from which an XM lackey can draw as necessary -- and then pre-record a handful of rambling "essays" to run between them. (Insert inevitable joke about confusing Bob's voice with poor reception here).

Still: Bob Dylan's personal playlist. It's hard to argue with that. Howard, of course, is doing some real work for his paycheck: programming a second 24-hour channel in addition to doing his daily show. Frankly, most of what I've heard about for the spin-off channel sounds silly, but I'm willing to wager anything that his own show is going to be spellbinding. What you'd never know from that New York cover story that reduced him to fart and dick jokes is that Howard is one of the most original entertainers of our generation. Jeff Jarvis got it right in The Nation last year:

Until I reviewed his show for TV Guide, I had heard the same snippets, quotes and characterizations you had. I thought he was best taken in small doses. But after listening to him for a few weeks, I discovered that, to the contrary, he is best taken in large doses. For then you discover that Stern is charming, likable, decent, funny, a talented entertainer, a great interviewer, and--more than anything--honest.

Stern is an antidote to all the overpackaged, smiley, phony, condescending pap of personality in American media and entertainment. In an age of predictable news (shouldn't news be just the opposite?) and political correctness and numbing national rhetoric, Stern cuts through the crap and says what he thinks--and what many of us think. And that is incredibly refreshing. No, it's liberating.

The worries that Stern won't be funny without limits stem from the misconception that he's just about pushing limits. Really, the only thing that I can think of that might be worse about his new show is that the smaller audience won't draw big name stars to his couch for interviews. Nobody even comes close to doing celebrity interviews like Howard, and it would be a shame if those dried up.

But still, as I said: Bob Dylan. When XM lost its bid for Howard it decided to try to turn lemons into lemonade by positioning itself as more sophisticated and mature than Sirius and its audience of Howard and Eminem fans (Slim Shady has his own channel too). Until now it was just a pose -- other than Howard and Bob (and baseball if you care about that), the two networks seem pretty similar. XM has cringe-worthy Howard wannabes Opie and Anthony, so it's hard to think of them as sophisticated. But Bob is certainly a step in the right direction. Yes, XM also has Jonathan Schwartz, but Sirius has its own Sinatra/standards channel, and you don't have to put up with Jonathan Schwartz.

I had a chance to test Sirius for a weekend when it came free with a rental car, and I was pretty damn impressed. Music that I've never heard before! That's good!. I'm not quite ready to pay for radio -- largely because my kids are around whenever I'd have it on, so I wouldn't be able to listen to Howard anyway. But if I were, this would now be a difficult choice to make -- assuming Bob does more than just phone it in.

Really the question is whether either of these shows will end up on file sharing networks? My guess is they will, which means if Sirius and XM aren't looking into legal distribution methods for non-subscribers, they will be soon. Edited versions of Howard's show will be available on pay-per-view TV, but I suspect those will focus on the T&A and cut out all the smart, challenging stuff that really makes the show work.

I've been listening to Howard Stern on and off since he started on K-Rock in 1987. If you're a former listener who's planning on tuning in Friday for the big send-off, I'd suggest that Thursday's show -- featuring the return of Jackie Martling -- will be even better.

After that -- well, if anyone here has either set-up and wants to recommend it over its rival, I'm listening.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I have Sirius and like it, although I find that being freed from the staleness of commercial radio has not been as liberating as I'd expect. Instead, itís only caused me to become even more demanding of this new radio. For example, although I like that Sirius has three public radio stations (two NPRís and a PRI), I feel like I canít escape Terry Gross and Diane Rehm, and they donít put the best programs on at the optimal driving hours. (This American Life, for example, comes on at the most random of times. All Things Considered and Morning Edition aren't played at all, so I just turn to my local NPR station for them.)

The music stations are good, although not as diverse as Iíd expect from a service that has the freedom satellite radio does. Where are the niche stations -- bluegrass, lounge, variants of jazz, or at least something aside from numerous stations devoted to different phases of hip hop, rock and Top 40? And while the music stations do indeed lack commercials, they still have annoying DJs and bumpers that try oh-so-hard to sound edgy. I say get rid of all that crap and just play me some music, because thatís what Iím paying for. (They also run on what appear to be regular rotations of music, much like commercial radio. That doesnít make any sense to me. Commercial rotations restrict the number of songs that actually make it on the air; satellite radio should be free from that, allowing for each dayís worth of content to sound totally different from the previous dayís.)

But despite my moaning, I find that when Iím in someone elseís car and outside my satellite radio cocoon, Iím annoyed. The commercials! The yammering DJís (that, I admit, go on at least three or four times as long as Siriusís ever do)! The lack of choices! So, maybe itís worth the bucks.

This is almost enough to maybe make me sign up. I've had XM a couple of times when in rentals for work, and it's pretty sweet. No commercials rules and it gets me to listen to new stuff unlike my ever attached iPod. It's the thought of another monthly bill that gives me pause...I've read good things about Little Steven's show too. We'll see.

O&A Party Rock!!

I might be wrong, but I sort of think Dylan would enjoy sitting down in a studio and spinning his faves for us. There are a lot of DJs out there who secretly want to be musicians, but it wouldn't surprise me if the reverse is true as well.

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