Wednesday, February 25, 2009

But Sirius-ly Folks.....

Hi Gang. Today's lesson is: How to kill the golden goose. Or the maybe golden dog.

Let's go back to early 2005. CBS Radio was making obscene profits, Howard Stern was being labeled obscene by FCC Chair Kevin Martin, and Sirius and XM were about to go on an obscene spending spree trying to beat each other into submission.

Fast forward to 2009: CBS Radio has fallen so far it seems like it's impossible to get back up again, Howard Stern could be a lot more obscene but isn't, and Sirius has beaten XM into submission.

Despite assurances to the contrary, I am afraid my beloved Sirius is about to become exactly the type of monolithic, out of touch company that I despise.

The first sign: Summer, 2008- Super Shuffle is pushed to online delivery only, then disappears from the web site after the merger. I know it's borderline pathetic that I care about this. But let me do some 'splainin', as Ricky Ricardo might say.

Once upon a time, when I was just a young lad, there was this radio station. It wasn't just some radio was THE station. The Buzzard. If you didn't grow up during this time, you probably will never understand the tremendous impact of The Buzzard, WMMS. It was like a cool, secret clubhouse where your parents would never even think of visiting. And the music was awesome.

One of the things that I used to love about the early Buzzard was that they would never allow themselves to be boxed in musically. They wouldn’t hesitate to go from a rock song to a country song, straight on into classical if they felt like it. It was whatever they felt like. And it was really cool.

Of course, eventually the suits insisted that the mighty Buzzard had to become more like other stations, which made it common. It was like the kid from school who always dressed up really vintage punk suddenly showed up wearing Hollister. It was just wrong.

So fast forward again to 2006. I buy a Sirius radio when Stern moved from broadcast airwaves to satellite signals. And I trip upon Super Shuffle. Super Shuffle really reminded me of the Buzzard…no real format, just lots of music. They might go from “Ring of Fire” to “Girls on Film” to “I Love This Bar.”

And it was awesome.

Not only because of the vast Sirius library, but because there were no blathering DJs filling my radio with the same tired and trite nonsense about K-Fed and Britney. Like the “Jack FM” format, Super Shuffle relied on variety of music and very little nonsense from air talent.

Even more: on Saturdays, they would bring in special guest hosts who would come in and play anything they wanted. Tom Petty’s show was awesome. And believe it or not, Jerry Springer’s show was probably one of the best I’d ever heard.

Super Shuffle was cool. It was hip. It was odd. And so of course, it had to die.

Now listen, I’ve been around the block enough to know the futility of what I’m about to admit. In fact, I am somewhat embarrassed by what I am about to say.

I wrote a letter to Sirius.

You know, the agitated listener whining about the format change that is based on pretty solid data showing nobody listened?

But I listened.

And I don’t count.

So Sirius sent me the perfunctory auto-response thanking me for writing and assuring me they would take my opinion into account.

And then they pulled Super Shuffle from the web site. It was dead.

Fast forward to February 2009. Sirius sends me an email announcing that not only are they no longer offering Super Shuffle, but now in order to keep my ability to listen online, I will have to pay extra. No more freebies.

And oh, by the way, even though we agreed to the FCC condition’s on the merger with XM about not raising prices for a period of time, we didn’t agree to not raise other things…so secondary subscriptions are going up and we are un-bundling the online listening from the radio package.

Then last week, the truth was revealed. Sirius needs a bailout. Too much debt, too little liquidity. (Read all about it here.)

Honestly, I am not sure if I will continue on as a Sirius subscriber. Super Shuffle is gone. Howard is talking retirement when his 5-year deal is up in late 2010. Why keep forking out hundreds of dollars for product that is progressively growing weaker (my opinion) and costing me more?

But man, I really do miss The Mighty Buzzard. I would run back to radio if only somebody somewhere had enough guts to program music without bashing the same 12 songs into my head on a short rotation. I’ve heard enough Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin to last me for the rest of my life. But maybe once in a while somebody could play a little Artful Dodger? Squeeze? Johnny Cash? Wilson Pickett? Wilco? Stabilisers?

Good thing I bought me a new radio with an iPod input. Maybe the right playlist will be my salvation. I will program my iPod to generate lists called “Buzzard Radio”. And I will wish that I still had Matt, Denny, Leo, Crash, Bash, and Boom to talk to me in between songs.

Dr. Phil Hoffman is General Manager of The University of Akron’s Z-TV. He is also starting to sound like a crabby old guy wishing for the Good Ole Days when music was awesome and you kids today just don't get it.


  1. R.I.P. to the "real" Buzzard-the pre-ballot-box-stuffing one (or before we knew about it, anyway). R.I.P. to the best Station in the Nation. Growing up on The Boom, The Kid, Jeff & Flash, Mr. Leonard and the ol' Jean-Luc Ponty-to-Zeppelin segues was a real treat. Who'd have the cojones to do it now? This station definitely was responsible for bringing the Rock Hall here, and we are able to look back now and say that WMMS boosted the careers of Southside Johnny, Springsteen, The James Gang and so many others.

    Nowadays radio on The Lake is in The Toilet.

  2. Amen, brother.

    I am very disappointed in SiriusXM management for doing the hike. They act like I can't get the same content anywhere else, FOR FREE!!! They should be breaking down the barriers for listeners, not building them up. this is true especially since wifi internet (in cars) will come standard BEFORE the SiriusXM hardware.