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San Francisco: XM Radio is the greatest thing to happen to broadcast sound since FM, but surprisingly, a lot of people don't even know it exists.

The award-winning satellite broadcast subscription radio system debuted in November of 2001, and by September 2002, had more than 200,000 subscribers. It features 101 flavors of music, talk, news, and variety programming. Like cable TV, you get the entire smorgasbord of options, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As with any good all-you-can-eat spread, if you want to stuff yourself with nothing but marshmallow-covered yams, help yourself. On the other hand, you can take a tiny bite of everything they've got. That's what I did.

Imagine your favorite music or talk format, presented in CD quality, available uninterrupted for an entire driving trip across the country. With XM Radio you can gorge yourself on 12 straight hours of bluegrass music or groove to endless Hip Hop. The audio pie is sliced in every imaginable direction.

There are 17 categories in the XM Radio universe. I began by listening to the first six channels (4-9), which feature music of the forties through the nineties, respectively. The fifties (5) produced the Drifters, the sixties (6) the Beatles, all the way to A Flock of Seagulls for the eighties and Janet Jackson for the nineties. Period style jocks flog the songs with an eerie flash-from-the-past vigor.

The six Country stations, 10-15, range from Classic Country, with artists like Johnny Cash, to Progressive Country, Top Country Hits (current), Traditional Country, with artists like Hank Williams, the Bluegrass Junction, and The Village, featuring folk music.

The Hits section (20-30) features 11 different mixes, from The Heart (only love songs), MTV and VH1, On Broadway, (show tunes), Cinemagic (movie soundtracks) and Sunny, which perfectly recreates the 101 Strings style of FM easy listening of the 1960s.

Two Christian music stations (31-32 plays rock (the Torch) and pop (Fish). The sound is as vibrant and musical as anything on radio today.

The dozen Rock stations (40-52) begin with Deep Tracks (obscure album cuts), followed by The Boneyard, with hard rock by groups like Firehouse. Then came XM Liquid Metal, with a succession of guys screaming at the top of their lungs. Top Tracks presents "classic rock", by such notables as Grand Funk Railroad and Bad Company. Alternative comes in two flavors--Ethel (hits) and Squizz (hard). XM Café features soft rock like Sting's Desert Rose. The Unsigned channel featured artists without their first record contracts.

The Urban section (60-67) starts with Soul Street (classic soul) and progresses on to The Flow (today's neo soul). The gospel station, Spirit, offers up real church-based gospel music in all its glory. The Rhume (classic Rap) and Raw (Uncut Hip Hop) are appropriately uncensored and door shaking. The other stations fit somewhere in between.

About half of the stations are commercial free, while others sound more like typical broadcasts. The programming originates from 82 studios scattered all over the country. You don't get a local angle on XM Radio.

When a song plays, the dash display flashes the artist and as much of the song title as can be crammed into the small screen. You can press the MSG button to read the information again.

The seven Jazz and Blues channels (70-76) range from traditional to Modern Jazz. Swingers will appreciate Frank's Place (with Jack Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank himself), and On the Rocks, a cocktail mix. Luna serves up Latin Jazz. Bluesville sings the blues nonstop.

Four Dance channels (80-83) range from underground dance, to club hits, to disco. The five Latin stations (90-94) include Aguila (Spanish Top 40), Vibra (Rock in Spanish), Caliente (Caribbean), and two more.

The five World channels (100-104) deliver dedicated African programming (Neema), and an all Reggae station called (tongue in cheek) "The Joint". You will not find this kind of programming on standard broadcast stations.

Three classical stations (110-113) offer traditional classics like Haydn and Rachmaninov, Opera, and XM Pops. All of this music sparkles in the same crystal clear, concert hall ambiance. The only downside was experiencing a couple of momentary dropouts as I passed under a couple overpasses.

The two Kids channels (115-116) are Radio Disney and XM Kids. News channels (121-134) include standards like Fox News, CNN, and ABC News & Talk, as well as C/Net Radio (tech news) and Bloomberg Radio with business news. Also present are CNN in Spanish and the BBC World Service. The Weather Channel gamely explained the weather on the East Coast--some things are best left to the locals.

You can get a heavy dose of sports programming (140-144) with ESPN, Fox Sports, the Sporting News channel, and even a dedicated NASCAR station ("Radio at Full Throttle").

Three comedy channels (150-152) feature raw club performances on the XM Comedy channel and "Family Comedy" on Laugh USA, where Allan Sherman and Carl Reiner hold court. Another option, Extreme XM, had two shock jocks when I tuned in.

Lastly, the Talk and Variety section (161-171) serves up real life stories (Discovery), old time radio classics (like Bob Hope), talk and opinion (Buzz XM), and experts and advice (Ask!). The Power features African American Talk, and XM Live presents recorded concerts. The Truckers' Channel completes the batch, except for the Playboy Radio channel (205 - Premium), to which I did not have access. I'm not sure that subject is the best idea for folks driving cars anyway.

For just $129 you can put the XM Radio in your current car or home stereo system. As a subscription service, XM Radio costs a mere $9.99 per month. You can order XM Radio in 25 2003 GM models (44 models in 2004) and a few non-GM brands offer it as well. XM Radio expects their subscriber list to grow to more than a million by the end of this year.

XM Radio has the feel of something like the Internet, which goes from obscurity to ubiquity in a few short years. For more information, visit them online at By Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  101 flavors of music, talk, news, and variety programming
Topic:  Satellite XM Radio
Word Count:   1075
Photo Caption:  Satellite XM Radio
Photo Credits:  XM Radio Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 35








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