Enter Eileen and Frank Turco, possibly the nicest people ever to set foot in New Jersey. Both retired some time ago, but she had seen something about XM on TV, and he was eager to listen. "This whole thing is fantastic, especially with all the options," Frank said, leaning in to the sounds of the 40s. "It's the best thing since the telephone." Dave, our XM escort, nodded at this endorsement as if he'd heard it a hundred times before.
And maybe he has. After all, Dave's been with XM since the beginning, part of the initial Dirty Dozen of corporate and creative types who put it together. He's been telling people about this "revolutionary satellite radio" for the past three years, and now he finally has something to show for it. The folks at XM reminded me of how James Cameron felt right before Titanic was released. Everyone was skeptical as hell, and rightly so. But Jimmy (may I call you Jimmy?) knew he'd made a blockbuster. These XMers seem to have the same confidence, with a major difference: they have to make more than a billion dollars just to break even.
Friday Evening: Between the Full Moon and New York City There I was, driving a brand-new Cadillac on the New Jersey Turnpike, where I could really open it up and see what it could do, and I was going 55 - and that's not even the speed limit. I was too busy messing with the radio. Jerry Seinfeld was doing a routine on XM Comedy, Elvis was on the 60s, 4 Non Blondes on the 90s, Merle Haggard on Hank's Place, Snoop Dogg on Raw, guys talking about trucks on Open Road. Since there's a short delay between when a song starts and the artist and title appear on the readout, I started to randomly flip through the channels and try to guess the song before it registered. I couldn't stop messing with the thing just for the sake of messing with it.
Friday Night: New York, New York, It's a Helluva Town! After coming off the Turnpike and emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel - the only place, aside from the Baltimore Harbor tunnel, where we lost the satellite signal - we were home. When we stopped by Times Square to mark the occasion, my mind drifted to everything that went into building XM. It's reinventing radio - which seems absurd since the last radio revolution happened when FM came along more than 40 years ago. It takes a special kind of genius/whacko to even attempt this, let alone pull it off. If I had hit the road intending to punch holes in XM, the system didn't give me much ammunition because it worked as advertised. Perhaps XM had a special satellite flying over our car to guarantee I'd write a glowing story. Then again, these people spent $1.5 billion (no matter how many times I write that, it's still a staggering figure), so it had better work as advertised.
Sure, there are questions. Will people be willing to pay? Does it really work everywhere in the U.S.? What happens if the Rock and Roll satellites careen into deep space, or just die, and are never heard from again? (I know there's a backup, but XM has to get it into space to do any good.) However, my biggest concern at the moment is that there isn't a 24-hour-a-day channel devoted to the Simpsons. (Yeah, but I'm sure it's in the pipeline.)
Having started as a technology writer, Gene Newman is now a regular contributor to Maxim and executive editor of the Web sites for Maxim and Stuff magazines.
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