It's hard not to get addicted to XM's 100 channels of music and talk beamed into your car every second of every day from Rock and Roll, the two satellites XM deployed into the final frontier to provide everyone in the U.S. with every possible type of music - with sound quality barely nudged out by CDs. To buy in, you need either a new car with a compatible receiver (GM and Honda are XM supporters), a new XM-ready head unit and an outboard tuner module, or an FM modulator hooked up to your existing receiver. You also need an unobtrusive, nubby satellite antenna. All the current hardware is for the car, except for Sony's Plug and Play Radio, which you can remove from the dash and patch into your home system.
Friday Morning: Just Waking Up I got a depressing wake-up call when I clicked on the TV in my Washington, DC, hotel room: George Harrison was dead. Half of the greatest and most influential band in the history of music was now gone. Not a good way to start a day, especially when you're not a morning person to begin with.
I had a few articles on XM strewn about the room. They all read the same. Over the past three years, a company spent a bunch of cash to revolutionize radio. It has a big state-of-the-art studio in D.C., it wants people to pay for radio, blah, blah, blah. We've been reading about this for years. I wanted to bypass the technical stuff and get to the basics: Is it any good? I didn't plan on testing it in a lab. I just wanted to get in a car and drive from D.C. to New York City and check it out.
Friday Mid-Morning: Magical Mystery Tour I admit it wasn't magical, and it was only a little mysterious, but the second floor of XM headquarters was impressive as hell. Right from the git, I could see where some of those millions went. The only way this place could have looked more expensive was if it were wallpapered in hundred-dollar bills. It was like a time capsule from the not-too-distant past, when every freaky start-up on earth was throwing money around like Rip Taylor tosses confetti.
Since XM had been broadcasting for only a month, nobody there appeared beaten and weary from the cruel economy. They were in their own universe. Studios equipped with mind-blowing gear lined hallway after hallway.
These Generation XMers exuded fresh excitement. It was faith. Of course, I only spoke with the fun people: the programmers. We kept our distance from the bigwigs, who were probably gnawing on the exposed steel beams on the third floor, nervous that XM could possibly become ex-M. (That's an exaggeration. CEO Hugh Panero, looking as cool as Lee Marvin, actually emerged from his office to help our photographer figure out how to operate an overly complicated coffee machine.)
XM's competition in the satellite-radio world, Sirius, hasn't been quite as lucky. Sirius was actually due to go on the air before XM, but a series of technical glitches have kept it in broadcasting limbo. It hopes to begin rolling out by mid-February.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.