Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The comfortable bubble of satellite radio

John Lennon once wrote (and sang) that life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. So life found me on an unexpected family errand that involved driving to and from New Jersey in the wee hours of Monday morning and through the rest of the day, the first part of it alone in the car.
I like night driving, especially when I'm tired. The car lights flashing through the darkness, the images in the shadows alongside the road -- they make me concentrate in a way that's much more difficult when daylight shows nothing but a long ribbon of road ahead.
Still, I'm not so foolish as to avoid any effort to keep my concentration sharp. Caffeine intake increased sharply. And the radio was on.
XM Satellite Radio, that is. I could have brought CDs, but I wanted talk -- voices, conversation, ideas bouncing through the night. But I don't usually find much interesting on talk radio -- although I did spend one late-fall trip restlessly flipping through stations in search of football scores, because that was a weekend where just about every game had Playoff Implications.
And for long stretches, radio reception wasn't great anyway. (For that matter, I'd lose the satellite connection at times.)
So I began flipping through XM channels and, even there, I couldn't find much. Then I came across a couple of channels devoted to comedy -- one standup routine after another, many of them vulgar, more than a few not funny. It was just what I needed -- something that kept me alert without distracting.
Now, there are those who will tell you that satellite radio is bad, that it is killing local stations, that it puts us in a world where we are cut off from the immediate important events right around us. I won't argue that satellite radio will leave regular radio unchanged; we've seen what cable tv has done to regular over-the-air television. But on that long night's journey, satellite radio gave me something I would not have found on regular radio under the best circumstances, and it was the companion I needed most.

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