Studio 54 on Sirius XM

I haven’t really been a fan of Sirius XM.  I don’t travel often, and when I do I tend not to be in the car for a long enough time for me to get the radio and mount it in the Jeep.

I got Sirius about a year before Howard Stern was on the air there, and while Howard was a reason I got the service, I am not a steady listener. 

Actually why I got Sirius was that there was a promo at the time and I found that they had a good Disco channel, a good Trance Channel and a good Dance Channel that had very little chatter.  They also have a 40s music channel that is excellent and have the BBC World Service.

They don’t have BBC Radio 4 which would be an excellent addition since it is “Intelligent Talk” and one of the few places on radio that I know of that does actual game shows and has since the days of it’s infancy.  Radio 4 is how I learned how to speak English when the programming was actually on the World Service.

Through time, they gained Howard Stern and it was fascinating to see what this amazing entertainer and his side kicks would do if they were unleashed.  Having been able to speak your mind, freely, and not speak like a child which is required by the FCC was a freedom few broadcasters have.  They went through their period that there were many “rude words” on the station until they realized that it wasn’t fun anymore and went back to being one of the more intelligent and fascinating discussions on radio.

Yes, even though I don’t listen frequently, I still am a fan of their work.

On the other hand, the music channels began to resemble the pablum that you find on “terrestrial radio”.  It is amazingly difficult to keep a channel going with fresh music if you are broadcasting an older format of music that isn’t particularly popular any more.  If they aren’t making any new Glenn Miller music, you just won’t have it to play.  Their 40s channel does seem to manage that well though finding things that I have never heard before.

The problem was the Dance Channels.  Since I can’t listen to Country and Rock bores me, I can’t vouch for those formats.  The paid for service was getting way too “standard radio”.  Whoever was programming the channels first deleted the dance hits channel and morphed it into the BPM channel when Sirius and XM merged.  It became basically what was a “Hot Hits” format if you remember that.  Play a song, play a station ID and yell what that was and what’s next while talking over the song you just started to play.  Some of the worst offenders of that are the DJs Tim Bauman and “Geronimo”. 

The idea of a dance station is to bring the music to you and present it like a live event.  When is the last time you went to a dance club and heard the DJ babbling about something over top of the music?  There weren’t any announcements the last time I was in one, nor for the years before.  It’s rare that you hear that.  Originally there were two hits stations on Sirius and one was with announcements.  The one I listened to was without announcements and was deleted.

It was about that time when I tired of the recycled 20 songs they played on the old Strobe channel.  They brought in 80s dance music, usually called Big 80s, and it just got unlistenable.  The Sirius radio gathered dust and I’ve ranted about that before.

Last month they decided that it was time to bring back a Disco channel.  It’s almost there.  It still is rotating some of the same songs but not quite “over and over”.  I found myself listening to the channel for more than 5 hours a day and only changed it when they put on some specific artists.

To this day I still can’t listen to “Lady T”.  Blah.  Can’t do it.  Tried and didn’t like her in the 70s or the 80s.  But that’s just me, we all have our favorite artists in any given music format.

However, they did something that was “authentic”.  The old disco channels on radio were known for basically putting on two tracks an hour in the evening if they had a long format song.  The “Disco Mix” of a song could be 17 minutes long where the “Radio Edit” would be one side of a 45 and would last about 3:30.  If they play a short version of a song it’s a surprise. 

If they could kill the announcements about how some person brought a leopard into Studio 54 and the rest of the trivia, it would help.  They tend to do fewer announcements than they do on other channels which is a blessing, but still more than would be “authentic”.  When played, they’re not playing these announcements over top of the music which much better than on many of their other channels.

I even heard some of the tracks that aren’t generally heard in a Disco station.  Some of the more obscure artists that you’d hear mixed in as a chance to test the waters are still heard.  After all, there’s a reason why certain tracks “didn’t make it”, but it’s nice to hear them even still.  It helps to keep the channel from going stale.

So I have a reason now to listen again.  It also gave me a reason to explore what else Sirius has to offer.  I’m again listening to 40s, as well as the classical music I grew up with.  The Studio 54 has been left on for hours, but I’ll switch into Jimmy Buffet once in a while and visit Margaritaville. 

They also put on a good R and B station called the Groove.   In Philadelphia in the late 70s, we were lucky.  We had one of the best Disco stations (and scenes) in the nation on WCAU.  We also had a wonderful, locally owned R and B station on WDAS.  If you didn’t hear something good to listen to on one, you would switch to the other, and it seemed like the stations knew it and used that knowledge to build something better.  When Clear Channel got massive and finally bought up all the radio stations in Philadelphia, WDAS was one of the last to go.  It felt like something died.  RnB wasn’t quite as edgy any more and it felt much more corporate and “cleansed”. 

Sirius managed to capture a little of that edge in The Groove.  Well worth the listen if you want to hear some dance and a little RnB mixed in.   I know I do.

So it’s better.   I’ve got Sirius on now playing in the headphones on the iPhone player.  At least I can listen without having the parrot going crazy that way.

It’s not perfect but they’re on their way.  They managed to make the Trance Channel something less special where they’re mixing more formats in instead of sticking with the format.  Electric Area plays around 3 distinct formats of music in a seemingly random fashion, meshing together badly.  At least there is www.di.fm/trance when I need a good trance fix.

Now if only they could get rid of those annoying announcements and DJs on the other channels…

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Sirius XM changes channel lineup and still is annoying

This morning, having a bit of a writer’s block, I ended up surfing Google Trends for top searches. 

Obviously Osama bin Laden was still at the top as well as being somewhere in the ocean.
There were the lingering searches for the Royal Wedding in the UK.
After that, Sirius XM showed up.

I was a little surprised too, but I remembered they shuffled their channels today. 

Those who have their radios would have gone through the channel reload where you are presented with a count up to 100 percent while you have silence and wonder if it will work.   It has always worked.  On the other hand you get to reprogram your presets and hope you can find your favorite channels.

That’s the problem.  I can’t.  They deleted “The Strobe” which was one of the original reasons why I bothered with Sirius in the first place.  I’ve listened since B.H.  – Before Howard Stern.  I’ve listened to Howard Stern occasionally, he is at times simply an amazing entertainer and I am hard pressed to think of anyone who is better an interviewer with pop culture icons.  

I can take or leave the shock, but the interviews are fascinating as well as his crew on the air.

On the other hand Sirius XM has a love hate relationship with dance and electronic music.  The Strobe started out as a disco only channel.  Rigidly programmed, there was almost never anything newer than 1980 and almost never anything played that was older than 1974.  That would be the sweet spot for the Disco Era.  However it was fairly tight on the play list and limited for the most part to the more popular music of that era.  Growing up in Philly you either were into rock, or you were into disco and you usually were heavily into it.  It was an amazing city for music.   The problem was that Sirius left out a lot of the other formats that would play from time to time on the disco stations of the era.  There used to be a lot of overlap with RnB.  There would be some Funk.  That sort of thing.

Later when they did their first channel shuffle, they dropped The Strobe but after complaints it came back.  Then they messed with the format.   They included some of the “late disco era” music of the early 80s, and even stretched the station into the mid 90s dance tracks that were so popular in the Northeast of the US for a while.  It did get better but still no RnB, but that was off on it’s own channel and at least we had The Strobe back.

Lately it seemed like The Strobe got stale.  I found myself surfing online and when I needed a Disco Fix and ended up with Diva Radio.  Much better breadth of music on that web only station.   There were actually tracks that I hadn’t heard and I’ve listened to some very obscure music. 

On the other hand, I’m not strictly listening to “Ghost Radio”.  While I do listen to “40s on 4” for a fix of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman when I need it, typically when I listen to Sirius, the radio is tuned to two different channels.  Area which is Trance, has drifted to being more progressive and there’s a lot more chaff thrown in.  The king of chaff is BPM.  I have BPM on right at this moment.  I rarely like it because it’s the old “Hot Hits” format – dance tracks, short versions, and DJs and Bumpers yelling at you between the tracks. 

In this era of the iPod and Internet Radio, that Chaff is what drives people away from broadcast radio.  Sirius seems to be embracing the chaff.   The DJs on BPM are even more annoying because they’re always sounding like they just had four or five shots of Cafe Cubano and are yelling things at you to the point of being almost overmodulated.

The worst DJs on Sirius are on BPM.  You have “Geronimo” who every time I hear I want to jump out of an airplane or better yet watch him jump out without a parachute.   There is also the stomach churningly bad Tim Bauman who sounds like he’s a Pimp Wannabe from a bad movie from the early 80s. 

The best thing they can do with BPM is to go back to the way it was Before Howard and play music.  Forget the bumpers, they’re unneeded and we have a display of what we’re listening to.   The DJs have GOT to go.    Just play music.  There was a twin channel to BPM back at that time which was almost the same music, but No DJ Chatter at all.   You don’t have to listen to Tim Baumans wretched rap about “The Gurrrrls” or Geronimo’s confusion about Relaxing and Exciting BPM.

Hey Geronimo What Does THAT mean?  Did you bump your head on the desk this morning?

If a Dance Channel is meant to reflect a club, their programming managers need to actually go into a club and listen.   The DJs Don’t Talk Over Every Song! 

“Electric Area” is better but not perfect.   They’ve been getting bumpers played over the tracks, and the shows that are played on Electric Area are basically the same thing I get when I surf Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, DJ Shah, Markus Shultz or any of the other Euro DJ websites.  There’s a little chatter, but nowhere near as much as BPM – maybe an announcement every 30 minutes or so.  The reason for that is that Sirius has been playing the DJ’s web tracks directly.  Better than the Progressive and Electro that has slipped in over the last few years.  They’re basically two different formats -Trance and Electro – similar music like RnB and Disco, but not fully interchangeable and while you can mix in some for variety, they are probably best on their own channels.

As for my once again gone The Strobe channel, they said they’d put it on as an Internet Only Stream.  It wasn’t there when I went looking for it at 10AM today.  If I have to make sure I have a way to play Disco, I won’t go to Sirius.  There are many better sites that play more variety – and that is something that can be said generically about any of the Sirius channels.   Loosen the playlists.  Your music is too repetitive.

When it comes time for me to finally get a new car, I won’t activate the Sirius radio.  One reason is that I already have a “Permanent Subscription” which was a big mistake, I know.  The other is that there are just way too many ways to get good music on the car radio these days.  My complaining probably won’t have an effect, but I’ll just end up with an iPhone with a data plan surfing http://www.di.fm and playing the Trance Channel there, or if I need disco back in my head there’s always Diva Radio.   

I guess it’s the promise they made is great for some but they fell short.   Their program directors could do better.  Lets just grade them a “C Minus”.  After all, just like FM Radio, Sirius is good for Classical and News.  The music formats just aren’t there.  If you love Elvis or Sinatra you will be happy.

No wonder why I had to blow dust off the top of the Sirius Radio this morning!