XM Passport

Gizmodo has a short post and photo of the forthcoming XM Radio Passport, a tiny portable chip that lets you easily take your satellite radio with you. XM receivers and stereos will soon have a slot that will allow you to pop in the Passport and access your XM account over more than one receiver. Yes, I know you can lug around the Ski-Fi unit and do that now, but the Passport looks small and easy enough to carry and use that someone might actually do it for longer than a week.

I hope the Passport will be a welcome solution to this mobility problem that has required people (like me, for example) to maintain multiple XM accounts just to easily get XM in the car and at home. At one time, I had three accounts, but the headache and cost ultimately lead me to let 2 of them expire- meaning I can only get XM in my truck at this point. Someone at XM is making smart, consumer-friendly decisions that will help XM move from the car to the living room, which is exactly what it needs for long term growth and stability.

This is another example of how XM is making some good strategic decisions. I am starting to think of XM as the anti-TIVO when it comes to strategic planning and execution- and that’s a compliment to XM.

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Pandora – Discover Music You Like


I saw a link this morning for Pandora over at Ken Leebow’s blog. Ken had great things to say about it so I checked it out. Pandora is a web service that takes the name of a band or song you like and plays similar songs you might like. I’ve tried this before with other music services and have never been all that impressed. But this time it was different.

I used Whiskeytown as my starting point and Pandora preceeded to play a bunch of songs, most of which I had never heard, that were very good. I heard songs I liked by Grant Lee Buffalo, Peter Case and even a couple I hadn’t heard by Whiskeytown.

After a few songs you have to register for either a free, ad supported, account or a paid, ad free, one. I’m going to check out the free account and if I keep hearing good new music, I may upgrade to the ad free version.

Pandora is part of The Music Genome Project, which maps songs by melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, etc. to create groups of similar songs. Based on my listen today, it seems to work really well.

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DJ Jazzy Bob

There’s a lot of stuff on XM Radio. 90% of it is of no interest to me, though I gladly subscribe for the other commercial free 10%. Today comes news that Bob Dylan is going to host a weekly radio show on the Deep Tracks channel (Channel 40, which is on the pre-sets in my truck).

This is going to be worth tuning into. I am interested to see if Dylan has aged into the engaging and very down to earth type like Paul McCartney (who also has a special on XM-40 right now) or the fan-hating arrogant type like Van Morrison (whose mild dislike for his fans grew into some sort of enraged hatred). It will also be interesting to see what songs he picks to play and how free and candid he is with his commentary.

XM has to add a lot of different stuff to appeal to a wide range of people. Dylan will hopefully join Whispering Bill Anderson (whose XM-10 talk show on Thursdays is my favorite talk show ever) as my favorite shows on XM.

Ed Bott is fired up about it too.

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XM Radio Making the Right Moves

C|Net is reporting that XM Radio has surpassed the 5 million subscriber mark. It is on track to have 6 million subscribers by the end of this year. Additionally, XM has invested in WorldSpace radio in order to facilitate expansion overseas.

I have been an XM subscriber for a couple of years now. I have not listened to one second of traditional radio since the day I got XM in my truck. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would return to traditional radio. The mindless banter and, more importantly, the ads are simply unacceptable to me in the days of XM and, at least for a while longer, TIVO. As of a few months ago, you can also access many XM stations over the internet (as long as you are already a subscriber).

I expect XM will do very well over the long haul, as long as it doesn’t overpay for sports broadcasting rights. Eventually there will be a crossroads between more music channels (which I want) and more sports (which I’m sure XM believes many of its target audience wants), but until that time, I expect to be very happy with XM.

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…and Somebody Else’s Favorite Song

With the rebirth of Rancho Radio, I’ve been thinking about radio, and internet radio in particular. I believe, as others have written, that traditional radio is dead. I haven’t listened to an over the air radio station, even for a few seconds, in over a year and a half. Like most people I listen to music mostly in my car. These days, I either burn a bunch of MP3s on a CD-R or listen to XM Satellite Radio (Particularly Webb Wilder‘s shows on Cross Country). I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about this and it seems most people who care about music even a little are trending the same way.

Why? Two reasons. First, traditional radio has a rotation that is both too narrow (being generally set by some suit at the home office of Clear Channel or some other corporate entity) and too broad (there is only rock, alternative, classic rock, oldies and country, whereas XM and internet radio have many subcategories of each). The other reason- the ads. I use a TIVO (which while not as dead as traditional radio, is dying on the vine due to DirectTV‘s failure to fully embrace it) to watch TV and always (and I mean always) fast forward through commercials. My 7 year old does the same thing (which doesn’t bode well for TV advertising’s future). I simply cannot stand to hear or see commercials anymore. That makes traditional radio highly unattractive to me. And from what I can tell, a lot of other folks feel the same way.

So, that leaves MP3s on a CD-R (except for long airplane trips, no one over 40 uses an iPod and headphones as their primary music source) or satellite radio in the car and my own music collection (often on shuffle play) at home. But part of the love of music is the joy of finding a great new band or song (I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Uncle John’s Band). Internet radio has, I imagine, become the primary venue to mine for new music. A long time ago, a lot of it was free, but internet radio stations have to pay the bills too. So now you have to pay for it, which is fine and appropriate, but unless you’re filthy rich, you have to choose which stations or services you pay for. Personally, I like Rhapsody (though the fact it was bought by Real Networks will eventually be its ruination) and MusicMatch (owned now by Yahoo, a slightly better bet). I also enjoy independent stations, like the ones you can hear (for free if you can tolerate a few ads) at Live365.Com, the service that hosts Rancho Radio (Update: No more) . These stations, created and operated by people who last century would probably be ham radio enthusiasts, provide an almost unlimited number of sub-genres and mixes.

Cost prohibits these stations from getting too big or too popular, so if they are successful they become little listening communities that enjoy the same sorts of music. Nobody is going to get rich off of an independent radio station, but it is a way to connect to others and share (legally) music you enjoy.

At least I hope that’s how it will develop. I’d like to see independent internet radio stations follow Blogging (which is only a better executed version of the mid-ninties “internet journal” craze) and Podcasting (more on that later) as the next big internet thing.

More on this later. In the meantime, tune in to Rancho Radio and let me know if you like what you hear.