Tag Archives | Radio

Whatever Happened to Radios?

Everyone knows that certain technology products are endangered species. Film cameras, for instance. Turntables. Payphones. Odds are pretty good that you haven’t used any of them recently. If you’re young enough, you might never have used them.

I never thought of pocket-sized AM/FM radios–the sort with built-in radios and telescoping antennae–as falling into this category of obviously-doomed products. I assumed that any store that sold electronic gadgets of any sort still stocked them.

But last week, my mother, who I’ve been visiting in Boston, asked for one. And boy, was I surprised by how tough it was to find one for sale locally.

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Will the iPhone Go FM? Maybe. But I Kind of Doubt It.

9 to 5 Mac is reporting that the new iPhone–whatever it is, and whenever it arrives–will sport a Broadcom wireless chip with the ability to send and receive FM signals. 9 to 5 is saying that it could enable the new phone to broadcast music over stereo systems (a feature some people currently enable by buying a third-party FM transmitter) and to receive FM radio broadcasts (a feature that’s common on other MP3 players but famously absent on iPods).

Assuming that the Broadcom chip is indeed inside the next iPhone, I’d still be surprised to see the phone use it for FM transmitting and reception. Even the best FM transmitters I’ve used are pretty fuzzy and crackly under all but optimum circumstances, and I find it hard to believe that Apple would be satisfied. And the time when the ability to listen to FM radio on an Apple device came and went a long time ago–the wealth of Internet radio that’s already available on the iPhone would make FM redundant.

Or so I think. I’m happy to be proven wrong–especially if Apple and Broadcom have figured out a way to do truly decent wireless FM transmitting to a car stereo…


Sirius XM Girds Itself For Bankruptcy

xmsiriusSirius XM, the spawn the of the merger that was supposed to save satellite radio, isn’t doing so hot. According to the New York Times, it’s on the brink of bankruptcy and could file for Chapter 11 protection any moment now. If it does so, service shouldn’t be affected, but those pricey contracts with personalities such as Howard Stern and businesses such as Major League Baseball might be. In other words, the very content that’s supposed to make satellite radio worth the bucks could be at risk.

As I wrote when Sirius XM recently raised some of its fees, I was once a hardcore XM fan, and still find much to like in the service–but I have the sneaking feeling that I’ll eventually do my radio listening in the car via my iPhone or another smartphone. And “eventually” may not be all that far away. Especially if the bankruptcy or further aftershocks from the merger impacts any of the programming I’m paying for. (I still can’t figure out why both the pre-merger XM and Sirius carried Harry Shearer’s Le Show…but the combined enterprise doesn’t.)

Meanwhile, satellite radio’s fragile condition would seem to be more evidence that sending satellites into the skies to beam stuff back to earth is so hugely expensive a proposition that it’s hard to turn it into a business. (Earlier examples: Boeing’s short-lived Connexion airplane broadband and Iridium’s satellite phone service.) Although I guess it’s possible that Sirius XM’s woes have less to do with outer space and more to do with money that stayed right here on earth–and went into the pockets of Howard Stern, Martha Stewart, Oprah, and pals.


SIRIUSly Expensive: Satellite Radio Rates to Go Up

XM RadioSirius Buzz is reporting that merged satellite-radio monopolist Sirius XM is planning a price hike in March for…its best customers. The cost of getting satellite radio on additional devices beyond the first one you own go will apparently go up by $2 a month; in addition, the streaming Internet service that’s now free will cost $2.99 a month.

When the FCC approved Sirius and XM’s merger last year, it was famously based in part on promises of a three-year price freeze for service. That guarantee apparently applied only to the basic $12.95 a month charge, leaving Sirius XM able to jack up other prices associated with its service. With no direct competitor, there’s less pressure to keep prices low for fear the other guy will undercut them.

Well, maybe. Satellite radio is in dire danger of being rendered irrelevant over the next few years by cell phones that stream a bevy of music, news, and talk stations for no cost beyond standard monthly data fees. Already, my iPhone gets Pandora, Last.FM, Slacker, AOL Radio, NPR, and a whole lot more. The company’s betting that locking up exclusive rights to stuff like Howard Stern and major-league sports will keep its services attractive, but that sounds like an expensive proposition for everybody involved.

News about price changes comes a few months after Sirius XM sprung channel changes on its customers without warning, driving some of its most faithful customers bonkers. (Take a look at the comments on the story Ed Oswald wrote at the time.) I’m still getting used to the combined company’s substitution of something called SIRIUSly Sinatra for the old High Standards station I enjoyed, and really, it’s the prospect of the Red Sox in the spring more than anything else that’s keeping me from defecting to the Internet. And the company’s apparent intention to continue with two separate brands with similar-but-not-identical channel lineups is incredibly kludgy; it leaves DJs having to give two channel numbers each time their identify the station they’re on.

I was hooked on XM for years, and would love to see satellite remain a viable, appealing broadcasting option. But Sirius XM is in a tight spot, and while raising rates may help whip its shaky balance sheet into shape, you’ve gotta think that it’ll prompt some longtime customers–especially those who own iPhones–to dump it.


Hey, XM and Sirius: Are You Two Services or One?

xmsiriusOver at CNET, Matt Rosoff is reporting on the supposed impending channel merge between XM Radio and Sirius, the two satellite radio companies that merged in July.
(In October, the two services began to offer extra-cost best-of packages of each others’ unique programming, such as Sirius’s Howard Stern channel and XM’s Oprah one.)

The channel merge is said to be coming next Wednesday–that seems awfully soon if subscribers haven’t been alerted yet–and involves shuffling around of stations, pruning of essentially similar ones (both systems have channels dedicated to the music of particular decades, and availability of some channels that originated on one system on the other system.
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Looks Like Pandora Could Stuff Doom Back Into the Box

Don’t declare victory just yet, but Pandora, the really cool, wildly popular online music streaming service, may avoid being driven out of business by dramatically higher licensing fees. The House of Representatives has unanimously passed the Webcaster Settlement Bill, which gives online music services such as Pandora more time to work out a deal with the music industry. It’s now headed for the Senate, where its chances of passing look just fine.

Pandora has done a good job of rallying its legions of fans to support it–I got the following e-mail (after the jump) today from Tim Westergren, the company’s founder:

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