Category Archives: satellite radio

Art Bell, Again

Yes. Again. Seriously. I don’t believe it, but then again, yeah, I do. Because he’s done it before.

This past week legendary radio host Art Bell quit his radio show. Again. The current incarnation, “Dark Matter,” broadcast on satellite radio by Sirius XM, is over. Bell cited technical concerns, as well as a small audience. In other words, it was hard.

And it’s not like he hasn’t done it before either. He’s quit before, or left under mysterious, sometimes highly suspect, circumstances, with little advance warning, or concern for his audience – no matter how big or small. As a matter of fact, he may well be more remembered for his vanishing acts than his radio act when history is done with him. He quits so often, it’s almost an industry joke.

The way he has left, and the reasons he’s given, all indicate one thing. Art Bell was doing this show for himself – not his audience, his fans, his loyal listeners. This was about him, not us. We would have listened without guests, without callers, and without a clear signal. Surely I’m not the only one who listened years ago with crappy reception from an AM station two cities ago, am I? It was hard for him. Again. So he quit.

Yeah, I’m angry, but that doesn’t dispel the man’s talent as a broadcaster, talk radio host, and interviewer. I would rather listen to bad Art Bell reruns than the best George Noory interview on Coast to Coast AM. At least Art would study up on his guest, ask intelligent questions, and not nap during the interview.

But now, not only is Art gone, but Coast to Coast AM has left Sirius XM as well. I am forced to rethink my satellite radio subscription once again. I love Opie & Anthony and Radio Classics, EW Radio, and I’m digging the sadly temporary David Bowie station, but really the only time I have dependably to listen is late at night, the former realm of Art and Coast.

Art has left me high and dry once again. I should have seen it coming. I hope Sirius XM saw it coming, and wrote that contract appropriately. I hope the quitter pays. Thanks, Art, for six weeks at least.

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Satellite Radio Reshuffling

A couple weeks ago one of my favorite satellite radio channels, Book Radio, disappeared, replaced with something called Rural Radio.

Here’s the official word from SiriusXM Radio: “As of July 15, SiriusXM Book Radio is no longer available on SiriusXM, but our commitment to books and authors remains high across many channels. Classic radio theater and stories continue on RadioClassics (SiriusXM channel 82), and audiobooks air on our “Late Night Read” show at night on SiriusXM Stars (SiriusXM channel 106).”

I would much rather have had a 24/7 channel dedicated to audiobooks, but at least something of what once was still exists in some form. Of course, that’s not the only worry I have had of late about satellite radio.

Those of you who know me, or are regular readers here, know that I am a huge Coast to Coast AM fan. Or at least a huge fan of some of the show’s content and some of its hosts. Due to ClearChannel and SiriusXM parting ways, C2CAM will be leaving satellite some time in August. Despite my problems with its content, it is, along with Opie & Anthony and Radio Classics, among others, one of the major reasons I subscribed to satellite radio to begin with.

My worries are over. This week, Art Bell, the original host of Coast, and innovator of that now much-copied radio format, has announced his return from retirement. Not only that, he will be returning to the microphone on SiriusXM Indie Talk Channel 104. Outside of C2CAM actually returning to its glory days, original programming, and hosts, this is a win-win situation for me. The show begins September 16th.

I’m happy, and I won’t miss George Noory falling asleep, doing crossword puzzles, or just not paying attention to a guest on air at all.

Lost Hits of the New Wave #20

“Baby’s in the Mountains” by Peter Godwin

The last couple times I’ve talked about songs The Bride had not heard of and I had not heard of. Here’s one neither of us had heard of, first heard on 1st Wave satellite radio, but apparently released in 1983.

Peter Godwin also fronted the band Metro and his “Criminal World,” one of my fave Bowie songs, was covered by the Thin White Duke on Let’s Dance.

Let Coast Be Coast

We’ve talked about my radio habits and obsession here before. Up until I got satellite radio, I still enjoyed exploring the AM dial in the middle of the night. Some time in the late nineties I discovered Art Bell and Coast to Coast AM.

This was more than a year before Art finally came to Philadelphia, syndicated on 1210 AM. I remember an intriguing and heated discussion about UFOs and alien abductions. I also remember that night getting out of my warm bed to log on the computer at around three in the morning to see the artist’s rendering of the aliens, you know, a visual to go with the audio. Yeah, I was hooked, and have been for close to fifteen years.

Mostly I was delighted to find talk radio that was not about politics. I could hear that nonsense anywhere and any time. I like different in my talk radio. It’s probably why I have been attracted to things like Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, radio dramas, audiobooks, and Joe Frank. Coast to Coast AM was definitely different.

I was overjoyed when the program found its Philly home and was a faithful listener almost every night. My insomnia proved helpful in that endeavor. Night after night I listened to a myriad of guests and topics, always in the realm of the paranormal. That was Coast’s forte. If you wanted intelligent (and sometimes not so) discussion about ufology, cryptozoology, mythology, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories or anything involving the odd or surreal, Coast to Coast AM was for you.

There’s a lot that can said about the host Art Bell. Surrounded by rumor and conspiracy himself, he was and is a consummate radio professional. No matter the insanity or unlikeliness of the guest or caller, he was always fair, entertaining, and at the top of his game. There are few talk radio hosts as sharp and composed as Art Bell.

Due to personal issues, Art has had to retire from radio and the show several times – the final time was in the late 2000s. He has been replaced the last time by George Noory. George is quite talented himself, but every time I hear an old Art show, it becomes quite obvious how inferior the replacement is to the original host. He never challenges guests or listeners, is often uninformed, and frequently seems inattentive or not even listening to guests and callers.

Noory also seems to have a problem with open lines. He doesn’t do it that often. Anyone who knows talk radio knows that it’s not about the host, it’s about the callers. Art knew this, and his regular technique was to not screen callers as is usually done – he just put them on the air. Often open lines was the best part of the old Coast to Coast AM. Since George has come in board, there also seems a shift in topic, more toward politics, and current events. I’m not happy with that at all.

The two biggest nights of the year on Coast to Coast AM are New Year’s Eve and Halloween. On New Year’s Eve they take psychic predictions for the upcoming year, and on Halloween, the show becomes ‘Ghost to Ghost’ as callers tell ghost stories. I love Ghost to Ghost. However, it too has gone downhill in recent years. Noury screens the calls, taking away the spontaneity, as well as the need to think on his feet, I suppose.

This year, last night, Noory even cut short the program by taking up the first hour with news, and an interview with a security expert. Seriously? Real Coast to Coast topics are rare enough recently, and now you’re truncating the best show of the year??

It’s no wonder that other radio programs similar to the original Coast to Coast AM, like Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis and A View from Space, are growing in popularity and Coast is falling. Politics and current events can be heard anywhere on the dial, the topics that made Coast great can not. I want my show back.

Please! Let Coast be Coast!

The End of an Era

Yesterday WYSP-FM changed their format and call letters to all sports and WIP-FM. I’m not a big sports fan other than Wings lacrosse and sometimes the Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys (you know where to send the hate mail), I think it’s unfair for me to ask why we need another sports station in Philly, but there it is, ya know? It’s not the first time WYSP has changed formats, but never so drastic a change before.

I grew up with WYSP, from when I first became aware of FM radio in the mid-seventies to when I fell away from terrestrial radio a few years back and discovered the more eclectic satellite radio. In the radio wasteland of Philadelphia, WYSP was always the cooler, hipper choice when compared to direct rival WMMR and distant competitor WIOQ. I envisioned stoned ex-hippies at the former and future NPR listeners at the latter, whereas WYSP listeners seemed like either myself, or folks I wanted to hang out with. WYSP always had the new, newer and newest music and trends.

WYSP was originally the FM version of AM pop/rock station WIBG, and its call letters stood for “Your Station in Philadelphia.” It started rocking in the early 1970s and quickly became WMMR’s biggest competition. As I mentioned, WYSP always seemed to have newer music and harder rock than WMMR. Those that listened could usually tell the difference with hearing a DJ or a station ID. WYSP was the first place I heard DEVO, Adam and the Ants, the Sex Pistols, Joan Armatrading, and even Rick Springfield.

When WYSP had news, it was cool news, same with the talk. I remember the Source days with Cyndy Drue, the Dr. Demento show and the Comedy Hour on Sunday nights. I remember the engineer who did the dead-on Mr. Rogers imitation and recorded versions of “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Iron Man.” I remember Ask Anita. I remember listening to “Innerview” with Jim Ladd, as he talked with Roger Waters about what “The Wall” was really about, and when he interviewed Ray Manzarek telling apocryphal tales of the late Jim Morrison. I remember learning of John Lennon’s death from WYSP.

I remember the Howard Stern years, along with the Opie and Anthony years. I remember the two weeks after 9/11 when WYSP was all talk, taking calls from listeners twenty-four hours a day and letting them vent, grieve or just talk. This is not as sad as that, but it like losing a lifetime friend. Even if I haven’t seen you in a while, you were a friend. I will miss you, WYSP, and so will all of Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Goodbye, old friend…

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The Price of Satellite Radio

I love my satellite radio. I love it so much that I rarely listen to terrestrial radio any more. Maybe some WXPN and maybe some NJ 101.5 FM, but let’s face it, my favorite terrestrial programs like Coast to Coast AM and some of the NPR stuff are all on satellite now. Not much reason to turn on the old fashioned radio any more.

Just got a notice from XM (yeah, they merged with Sirius, but they’ll always be XM to me) that my subscription rates are going up. The reasons cited are as follows:

”Music royalty rights were established by the U.S. Congress as part of the Copyright Act. This Act requires payment of copyright music royalties to recording artists, musicians and recording companies who hold copyrights in sound recordings.

“These royalties have recently increased dramatically, principally as a result of a decision made by the Copyright Royalty Board, which is designated by the Library of Congress to set royalty rates for sound recordings. Beginning on July 29, 2009, a “U.S. Music Royalty Fee” of $1.98/month* for primary subscriptions and $.97/month* for multi-receiver subscriptions will be effective upon your next renewal. This fee will be used directly to offset increased payments from XM to the recording industry.”

Now really, that’s fine. As a writer, I’m not someone who’s ever going to begrudge anyone royalties, that’s just how things work, and furthermore should work. I don’t have a real problem with the price hike, as long as my favorite stuff remains on the XM. What irked me was what I found when I went to the XM website and took a survey.

The survey was about my listening preferences, but seemed to mention little of what I actually listen to on XM. I stopped finding Howard Stern funny some time before he left terrestrial radio, so that’s not for me. I can count on one hand the number of times in three years I’ve listened to any of the nearly hundred sports channels, and Oprah barely amuses me even when she’s on TV. The big guns don’t interest me.

Most of what I listen to is talk radio. I’m addicted to Coast to Coast AM, which while occupying nearly eleven hours of programming per day, was not mentioned by the survey. Opie and Anthony get a brief mention, probably because they bitch on air about Sirius’ prejudice mercilessly. But nowhere did I see other things I listen to faithfully like the old time radio shows on Radio Classics and the wonderful audiobook variety at Book Radio. All there was in the survey was the rather vague description of ‘talk entertainment.’ That covers a lot of ground, and a lot of stuff I really don’t like. How can this survey really tell them anything?

The XM world has been getting smaller and smaller since the Sirius merge – mostly because it was more of a takeover than a merge. The mega-powered Sirius, with the ratings powerhouse (apparently) Stern behind it appeared to change everything on the XM dial as if they and they alone were calling the shots. We lost truly entertaining music stations in favor of the inferior Sirius versions of them.

My point is that for the price increase, how about some verification we’ll keep the programming we enjoy? How about it, XM? Sorry, I mean, how about it, Sirius?

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