This all started as a private madness.
I live in a rural suburb in New Jersey, more or less equidistant from New York and Philadelphia. (Benjamin Franklin said that New Jersey was a keg–unless it was a barrel–tapped at both ends, with half of whatever’s in it flowing to New York, and half to Pennsylvania, and he wasn’t wrong.) It’s a long way away from everywhere. Since I moved here, I’ve worked in Trenton (45 minutes away), East Brunswick (ditto) and now in Northeast Philadelphia (an hour away). This isn’t an unusually long commute from where I live. Thirty-nine people from Somerset County died on 9/11, commuters into the World Trade Center.
Unfortunately, the town where I live isn’t on any of the NJ Transit lines; I’ve always had to drive to work. And there really isn’t anything around that you’d call a radio station, certainly not one that has a strong enough signal to cover the length of my commute. (Other than New Jersey 101.5, which is unlistenable unless you need traffic information–which I don’t need because I travel most of my commute on country roads.) I’ve always relied on Sirius XM satellite radio to get me to work, and to get me home. I have my favorite stations that I listen to, probably you do as well. It just so happens that I am heartily sick of them at the moment, and I wanted to listen to something else, anything else.
So I came up with an idea. I would listen to each radio station on Sirius XM, one at a time, consecutively. I would give each channel a fair chance, listening to them for at least two hours–one going to work, one coming back. If I liked the channel I was on, I could keep it on there for as long as I wanted, but if there was a song that I couldn’t listen to, then I would move on to the next channel. In this manner, I would go through the entire channel lineup (understanding that the channel lineup for Sirius XM moves around sometimes). (Also keep in mind that I have an older radio–and my subscription doesn’t include Howard Stern and maybe some other stuff I’m missing.)
This is the result of this experiment.
Channel 0 – Sirius XM Radio ID
This just gives you the code for your own radio. Otherwise useless. There’s no audio.
Channel 1 – Sirius XM Preview
If you rent a car that has Sirius XM, but they charge you to activate it, you can (I think, at least in theory) listen to a bunch of ads for different Sirius XM channels. It is utterly worthless and no one should ever listen to it.
Channel 2 – Sirius XM Hits 1
I do not have any idea why “Sirius XM Hits 1” is on Channel 2. I mean, you go and figure it out. I imagine it’s the same reason why there’s a team called the Cleveland Browns, only their logo is an orange helmet. Maybe someone was high at the time. Other than that, it doesn’t make any sense and I defy you to find the logic in it. This is the basic Top 40 channel–although why it’s not called “Sirius XM Hits 40” and on Channel 40 is just beyond me. (The actual Channel 40–more to come about that–is a hair metal station.)
I was expecting not to like this, and I was right, but not for the reason I was thinking. I figured the music would be awful, and it wasn’t that awful. It was basically beginner music for teenagers–superannuated boy band singers, watered-down rap music, and whatever the hell Taylor Swift is doing now. It was new music, which is what I was looking for–endlessly repeated new music, but that’s how Top 40 always has been, you can’t complain about it too much.
What you can complain about is the drive-time disk jockeys. There are three of them, and all of them are ratchet-mouthed dingbats with nothing interesting to say that you can’t read in the gossip sheets. I could handle listening to Harry Stiles and Dua Lipa, but I couldn’t take another morning of listening to those bozos.
Channel 3 – Pandora Now
For whatever stupid reason, this is locked out on my subscription (I have the “family friendly” subscription just to save a couple of bucks, since I’m not really a Howard Stern listener). I assume it’s probably okay, but how would I know?
Channel 4 – Soul Cycle Radio
This is the radio station that you’re supposed to listen to while you are riding your expensive exercise bicycle. And that’s fine! You want to listen to relentlessly upbeat music while you do that! That’s cool! They have Post Malone! I like Post Malone! (I like Post Malone because he has “Always Tired” tattooed on his face, right under his eyes, which, ouch, and also, wow, and because he went to Grapevine High School.) This is not a bad station if you are on an exercise bike. If you are in your car, well then. Not so much. Not because the music is that bad, but because it’s all the same tempo, and not conducive for highway driving.
Channel 5- ’50s on 5
Do you remember the “Enchantment Under The Sea” dance in Back to the Future? Where everyone was listlessly cruising around the dance floor to, I don’t even know, Perry Como? And how the scene changed once Michael J. Fox started doing his Chuck Berry imitation? Remember that? 50’s on 5 is like the first part of that scene. They’re playing all of the dumb 50’s songs and not many of the good ones. It’s all the stuff Bruno Kirby wanted Robin Williams to play in Good Morning Vietnam.
This is not quite fair–you do get some good songs, there’s Buddy Holly, and I heard a scorching Little Richard tune I’d never heard before on the way home, but overall the lineup is dull and dumb. I switched it off when they were running some novelty song with nonsense words, and I don’t intend to turn it back on again. And the interstitial bumpers kept talking about “nostalgia,” and hell, I was born in 1969, if I’m nostalgic for anything, this ain’t it.
Channel 5 – ’60s on 6
I listened to this for two days, even when they insisted on playing “Monster Mash” in the middle of winter. The morning DJ isn’t bad at all. There’s a much better variety of music. And I learned stuff. Did you know that there was an actual group–that apparently included the late great Glen Campbell–called “The Hondells,” who did an album specifically to sing about Honda motorcycles? I did not know that. (Also got to hear Petula Clark singing “Downtown,” which of course got used in the Nashville bombing just last month–did everyone forget about that, the way they forgot about the Las Vegas massacre? Weird.) Anyway, not a bad channel, but doubt it’s going to break into the regular rotation.
Channel 7 – ’70s on 7
This is the first channel that’s in my current presets. I don’t listen to 70’s songs for long stretches; the lineup is just too spotty. What I like out of the 70’s on 7 is that it plays a lot of what you hear on the Yacht Rock station (which is only on during the summer, which is as it should be); when there’s a good yacht rock song, I’ll listen. But of course they play disco; I mean, they have to play disco, and when that happens I’ll just change the station. This is not to say that it’s not a perfectly good station, it is–just that there really isn’t anything new or different on there, and that’s not a part of this exercise.
Channel 8 – ’80s on 8
This is also on my current rotation, but it’s usually on for a song or two–if it’s not something I can sing along with I usually move to the next station. The gimmick for this particular station is that Sirius–unless it was XM–hired all of the original Video Jockeys from MTV, back when MTV stood for “Music Television” and played, you know, music videos. And it’s still very much like MTV was back then–top 40 from the 80’s, with the occasional gimmick song thrown in. It is, as MTV was, not very black at all–I think I heard a Pointer Sisters song, and Prince one time, and that was it. This is supposedly one of the most popular channels, probably fueled by GenX nostalgia. And it’s fine, just not what I’m listening for.
Channel 9 – ’90s on 9
There used to be a TV ad about a Christian radio station in New Jersey whose tagline was, “You can listen in the car with your kids!” ’90s on 9, well, you can’t do that. For whatever reason, whoever decided to have ’80s on 8 be mostly white went the other way for ’90s on 9, and there’s a lot of medium-explicit rap on there. This is not really a problem, and I’m not complaining about it–my kids aren’t in the car that often–but it’s certainly a different philosophy. (There is actually a whole station on Sirius XM that’s porn–I don’t think I have that one on my plan, and thank goodness, porn on the radio must be every bit as dumb as golf on the radio.) There wasn’t anything on this station that I disliked, but there wasn’t anything I cared about, either.
Channel 10 – Pop2K
Well, they have to call this something, you know. One of the stupidest things during my lifetime is that no one ever figured out what to call the first decade of the twenty-first century. (Come to think of it, you never hear people talk about the Teens or the Twenties, even though we’ve lived through the first and are groaning our way through the second.) It kind of surprised me, but I hadn’t ever listened to a lot of these songs; this was around the time I stopped listening to pop music altogether. (I was a very early XM adopter; I had a mini radio that hooked in to my car’s cassette system, and it was almost always on X Country, what was their Americana channel.) So, yes, I am probably the last person to listen to “Crazy In Love” in this entire country. I am almost certainly the last person to listen to Nelly’s “Country Grammar.” (Did you know Nelly is from St. Louis?) So the way this worked out was that the only songs on this station were songs I’ve heard a thousand times already, or songs that I’d successfully avoided up until this point. Hard pass.
Channel 11 – KIIS-FM, Los Angeles
I listened to this for just long enough to hear “Golden” by Harry Styles and a Hello Fresh commercial. I changed the station once I heard the Hello Fresh commercial, although I probably should have done that once I knew it was playing Harry Styles. (Actually, it’s not that bad of a song, I kid, One Direction fans. I kid.) I pay for Sirius XM so I don’t have to listen to commercials; I don’t know what they’re thinking by putting a commercial-based station in their lineup.
Channel 12 – Pop Rocks
There was not one song that they play on this station that I had not either heard a thousand times or that they had not played on one of the other stations I’ve listened to so far. The depressing thing is that this is what my kids are going to think is classic rock in twenty years. Having said that, there is an outside chance that this makes it into the rotation at some point, when said children rebel against listening to adult contemporary in the car with me.
Channel 13 – Pitbull’s Globalization
I know what you’re going to say because I thought I was going to say it myself: overweight white guy from Texas here isn’t going to like the Pitbull channel. Well, we’re both surprised now. I actually almost liked this channel, and I’ll tell you why. I like Spanish-language rap music a lot more than I thought I would, and that is because no one is expecting me to figure out what the lyrics are. And I don’t care. If I don’t have to worry about what the lyrics are, then I’m not going to, and no one is going to make me.
The only problem I had with the Pitbull channel is that it’s just so relentless; both morning and afternoon drives are given over to these DJ mixes which are very good but don’t give you any kind of a break (and, more importantly, don’t tell you who the artists are–I didn’t recognize anyone except when they played an “Uptown Funk” remix). Didn’t like it enough to move it into the rotation, but it wasn’t bad, and it’s certainly OK music if you’re driving to the club. Which I am not likely to do.
Channel 14 – The Coffee House
The Coffee House is in my regular rotation, but I don’t like it that much and this is why. The purpose of The Coffee House is to play acoustic music. And acoustic music for the sake of acoustic music is meaningless; anything can be acoustic. Doesn’t make it good. So what you have is a station that plays a limited selection of music, but the limitation doesn’t necessarily make any sense.
What you get on The Coffee House is three kinds of songs. First you get songs that are already hits that just happen to be acoustic, or that have acoustic versions that sound very close to what you get on the same as what you get on the other radio stations. So if you’re playing The Coffee House so you don’t have to listen to ketchup-loving dork Ed Sheeran, I have bad news for you. Second, you get songs by people who just do acoustic. This is good because you get Phoebe Bridgers, but it’s bad because you get songs by people with, um, a lot less talent than Phoebe Bridgers. (Note to Ms. Bridgers: you have at least one Republican fan who would very much like to pay you for your “Iris” cover with Maggie Rodgers.) Third, you get acoustic covers of pop hits, which can be very neat — I am thinking here of songs like The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside” by Run River North, which is very well done — but can also be very odd. So it’s a mixed bag–perfect for browsing around when there’s nothing else good on, but there are so many duds that you can’t listen to it for very long.
Channel 15 – The Pulse
There are three words that I have to say every so often, and they cause me something close to actual psychic pain every time I have to say them, and I hate saying them, but I do, because the alternative is that we keep going around and around in the same discussion. Those words are these: “Applebee’s is fine.” This is the “Applebee’s is fine” station. Like Applebee’s itself, everything here is dumb and tasteless and watered down, pleasant and inoffensive, brainless and dull.
(Excised: 3500-word rant about why there isn’t one single thing on the Applebee’s menu that other restaurants in town don’t do better.)
Is it on my usual rotation? Yes. Is it on there only because the kids whine for it to be on? Yes. Did I resent having to listen to it for this project? YES, in letters written a thousand feet high on the back side of Mount Rushmore.
Channel 16 – The Blend
The Blend is not any different than The Pulse. Or if there is a difference I can’t tell what it is. The Blend is every soft-rock K-Light FM radio station from the 80’s combined with every singer I hate from right now. (By that I mean Bruno Mars and Shawn Mendez, who are both talented but whiny and needy and blah.) This was the complete opposite of what I wanted to do with this project; listening to songs I hate and others I’ve heard a million times before. (I should also point out that The Blend plays my least favorite song of all time – “If I Could Turn Back Time,” by Cher, which I hate with an almost animalistic loathing.)
Channel 17 – The Bridge
When Child A was little, she would get anxious when she woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, and I would sing her songs to calm her down. They were mellow 70’s songs. And Child A learned to, well, strenuously dislike mellow 70’s songs. (And Elvis, more on Elvis later.) The operational word for The Bridge is “mellow,” just like the operational word for The Pulse is “pulsating,” and the operational word for The Blend is “sludge.” It’s on the usual rotation because I can sing along with it, mostly. There are a few songs that aren’t really mellow – “Allentown,” by Billy Joel, got played the other day, and it’s a good song, just not mellow. And it crosses the line from mellow to comatose at times – a little less Dan Fogelberg, if you don’t mind. But overall a solid station. (I think that it used to be more folk-rock at one time, maybe I’m misremembering, but if that was the case it’s not so much that now.)
Channel 18 – The Beatles Channel
So there was an obscure little garage band from Liverpool which became a minor sensation in the 1960’s, and the nice people at Sirius XM decided to make a channel featuring their songs. Which was a nice thing, I guess, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
Ha! Ha! I mean, okay, I was born four weeks after the last Beatles concert, and I grew up listening to Waylon and Willie. I don’t think I heard a Beatles song until maybe that one Nike commercial. I never grew up idolizing them, or thinking they were that great, and I certainly don’t have the slobbering devotion that a lot of people do for them. Certainly you have to have that mindset to approach The Beatles Channel, which glories not just in the moptopped ones, but in Ringo’s solo career and deep tracks off Wings albums and every trivial detail about whatever song they’re playing. The Beatles Station, as they say in Liverpool, does what it says on the tin. That is its chief, and in my eyes, only, virtue.
Channel 19 – Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong
I had to do a tiny bit of research about this, and it turns out that “Tuff Gong” was both Bob Marley’s nickname and the name of his record label, so there you go. I say only a tiny bit of research, mind you. I had a young friend from East Texas who had decorated his room with Bob Marley posters once, and I casually mentioned, “I didn’t know you were a reggae fan,” and he said, hand to God, “What’s reggae?”
“It’s the kind of music,” I said patiently, “that Bob Marley was famous for.”
“Bob Marley was a musician? Seriously?”
I think maybe he was pulling my leg. I’m not sure. But, yes, this is the Bob Marley channel, and I enjoyed it while I was listening to it. I am not a huge reggae fan, but I enjoy it when I hear it, and I’ve been to Jamaica twice, so there’s that. (My one former Jamaican co-worker, asked me, in all seriousness, if I got out of the resort while I was there, and yes, I had.) What you get on this channel is Bob Marley, and various other Marley family members, and other reggae acts, and it is just fine, no problem.
Channel 20 – E Street Radio
I live in New Jersey. And I have seen Bruce Springsteen in concert, at the old Giants Stadium, and he puts on a hell of a live show. This is a perfectly cromulent station that plays Bruce Springsteen songs, and that’s about all you need to know about it. I do like that they have other bands that play Springsteen cover songs on there (and that it is called “Cover Me,” which is cute). I don’t know, though – I think that I get enough Springsteen in my life without marinating in it 24/7. (I also heartily dislike it when they play a Springsteen song on another station I like, and the DJ feels compelled to point out that you can listen to more Springsteen on Channel 20, like I don’t know how to read a channel guide. They do this for Tom Petty, too, it bugs me.)
Channel 21 – Little Steven’s Underground Garage
This is the first station that hit everything I wanted out of this project: a station that I hadn’t ever really listened to, that played different music that I hadn’t really heard before, and that I really liked. I spend most of my time listening to Channel 28–more on that in a minute–which prides itself on playing a lot of different kinds of music, but doesn’t come close to the range here. There is maybe a little more Sixties rock than I would honestly care for, but what they play is really good and they intersperse some new bands that I wasn’t familiar with. I listened to this for a couple or three days, and never ran across a clinker. Bada bing, as they say.
Channel 22 – Pearl Jam Radio
I listened to the Pearl Jam Radio station on a cold, gray, overcast March day, and felt the chill of Seattle in my heart. No thank you. I don’t have any problem with the band per se, and wouldn’t mind listening to a station with an occasional Pearl Jam cut, but listening to a station that played nothing but Pearl Jam? No thank you.
Channel 23 – Grateful Dead Channel
All I am asking first of all if they can’t come up with a better name for the channel, something a little more creative. No? Fine. Okay. I am, shall we say, much more disposed towards the band itself than I am towards its audience, let’s put it that way. I like Cherry Garcia ice cream as my drug of choice. So I was fine with the music, but–how to put this–when the afternoon drive time DJ turned out to be a Dead roadie who was stoned off his gourd–and probably had been stoned off his gourd since 1967–I gave this station a hard pass. I did enjoy the music maybe a little more than I thought I would. The station played the song “Ripple,” which I had heard before, and I thought to myself, “they ripped that melody off of a Christian hymn, but I’ll be damned if I know which one.” I ought to have known that one, you know? So I did the research, and the similarity runs the other way–Bill Gaither came up with the melody for “Because He Lives” a year after the Dead released “Ripple.” Blew my mind, but not so far that I couldn’t retrieve it.
Channel 24 – Radio Margaritaville
I am not a Parrothead any more than I am a Deadhead, but I am certainly OK with the occasional dose of Buffett. The morning drive was a live Buffett concert, and I sang along with the rest of the crowd. Come to find out that the concert they were playing was the last concert for the 2019 tour, and for some reason that was like a punch in the gut. I wanted to reach out to those poor 2019 Parrotheads and tell them what the next year and a quarter was going to look like, and that they should savor their happy fun time because they weren’t going to get it again for a long time. I would prefer if the station dialed down the Buffett concert just a bit, gave a little more airtime to other acts, but that ain’t gonna happen and I get that.
Channel 25 – Classic Rewind
This is the station for everyone who is excited about the new Cheap Trick album. This is the station that the woman from the Bowling for Soup song listens to. Hard pass. There’s not a song on here that I haven’t heard a thousand times and I’m already sick to death of. This is not to say that this is a bad station–it’s one of the most popular stations on satellite radio. It does what it’s supposed to do, it’s just that I don’t want to listen to it at the moment.
Channel 26 – Classic Vinyl
Everything that I said about Classic Rewind goes double for Classic Vinyl. Because the playlist skews a little older, there was maybe some stuff I hadn’t heard before, but not much. Again, nothing wrong with the concept, it’s just not what I’m looking for.
Channel 27 – Deep Tracks
I think that I got a little unlucky with this channel. In theory, this should have songs that didn’t get a lot of radio play but that were still good. The question is, how many songs are in that sweet spot? The answer seems to be “Not many, unless you count the Rolling Stones.” I did like the Stones songs that I heard; the rest was a duke’s mixture of songs that had been overplayed and songs that were underplayed for a damn good reason. I wouldn’t mind checking it out again; one of the problems with this experiment is that you can get a little impatient.
Channel 28 – The Spectrum
This is the station that I (as an overweight 52-year-old white guy) I listen to most often. And it’s the station that I was most trying to get away from. My main complaint about The Spectrum is that once a new song gets on its playlist, it gets played just a whole hell of a lot. This isn’t terrible always, but sometimes they get a song and won’t let go of it. When I first started listening, years ago, it was a Bell X-1 song, and they kept playing it like a bad habit. For awhile it was “The Bones” with Maren Morris and Hozier, which is not a bad song but I have it memorized now and you can stop playing it forever as far as I care. Doesn’t Maren Morris have other songs? You’d think. (This is also basically the only place, other than the acoustic channel, that will play that Phoebe Bridgers cover of “Iris” that she had on sale for twenty minutes, and you had to contribute to the Democratic Party or whatever it was. I am going to stop complaining about this now.)
Channel 29 – Phish Radio
I have listened to maybe two Phish songs in my life, that, and the one solo piece by the frontman that they played the living hell out of on The Spectrum for six weeks or so, that was about him riding his bicycle. Okay. So I came into this station not knowing anything about Phish other than they had a small-but-devoted fanbase that was frequently higher than the angel on top of the Christmas tree. Which apparently (as you may have picked up already, if you’ve read this far) is what gets you a SiriusXM channel. I count at least seven – the Marley channel, the Dead, the Buffett channel, this one, the Willie Nelson channel, probably the Ozzy Osborne and the Kenny Chesney channels. They ought to give stations to Snoop Dog and Kacey Musgraves, and they’ll have the set. (One of the wonders of the modern world is that when you search the Wikipedia page for Phish, there is no mention of the word “marijuana.”)
I walked away from listening to Phish Radio thinking that Trey Anastasio is a talented musician and performer but is the world’s worst lyricist; he needs a Bernie Taupin like you would not believe. They played a song called “Forward People” that Anastasio just released and I have never heard stupider lyrics in my life; it sounded like the inside of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s skull, but without the whistling noises as the air moves through the otherwise empty spaces. If there was just Phish instrumental music it would be tolerable–not at the level where Explosions in the Sky operates, you understand, but okay. But whenever Anastasio opens his mouth, I felt an irresistible urge to change the channel.
Channel 30 – Dave Matthews Band Radio
I expected to like Dave Matthews Band Radio, and I didn’t, and I was a little surprised as to why that is. I don’t think I’d ever taken the time to listen to a lot of DMB at once, and I because I am a huge giant idiot, I didn’t realize that all of their songs sounded exactly the same. I don’t know why I never realized that before. You can tell one song from another, but that’s about as far as it goes. I like Dave Matthews, and it’s always OK when he turns up on a station I like, or in my shuffle at home, but not all at once one after another.
Channel 31 – Tom Petty Radio
I left my previous job in August 2020, after almost two years of relentless stress and anxiety in an all-out, up-at-dawn struggle that I will never fully be able to tell you about. I got in my car, fiddled with my phone, and put on “Free Fallin'” and listened to it all the way home. That’s how I feel about Tom Petty. It’s music that is written for middle-class schlubs who feel they are never going to measure up, who know that the waiting is the hardest part, who hope that the losers get lucky sometimes. SiriusXM has a lot of Tom Petty content (he was with XM from the start, if memory serves, along with Dylan), and plays a lot of his music–and those of other bands, although not as much as maybe I would like. Having said that, it’s like the other vanity channels–simply too much of a good thing.
Channel 32 – U2 X-Radio
Saturday morning, a day in the life. I am taking the stubborn child to the doctor for some bloodwork. I am making my way through the traffic circle, and listening to the U2 station, and they are doing the thing that they do where they turn the station over to a guest DJ. And that’s fine. A lot of stations do that, and it’s sometimes interesting. But when they do it on the U2 channel, they call it “Desire” – which is fine, ha ha and all that — and they turn it over to U2 superfans, who, dear sweet Jesus on the throne of grace, will absolutely not shut up and play the music. This particular morning, it was some doofus from Vancouver who was whining because he couldn’t afford a ticket to the ZooTV tour thirty years ago, dear God, get over yourself. I said this out loud. And I continued. “Shut up, shut up, nobody cares how you got tickets to the Elevation tour, nobody cares if you had to schlep down to Seattle for the show there, shut up.!” And the stubborn child, who never agrees with me about a single thing when it comes to music, agreed.
And I get that this is a nice thing that U2 does for its fans, and it’s his only chance to get on national radio and say how much he loves U2, I get it, but shut up, nobody cares.
Channel 33 – 1st Wave
Okay, you know yacht rock? The idea behind yacht rock is the concept that all of the songs that you didn’t listen to in the 1970’s turned out to not be that bad when you heard them forty or fifty years later. I was very surprised to listen to 1st Wave, which is basically all of the New Wave 80’s songs that all the depressed emo kids listened to when I was in high school, and that I wouldn’t have even have thought of listening to. Turns out, that stuff isn’t half bad when you get in the right mood. I just figured it was all moody and depressive because that was the audience. I enjoyed listening to this station and I look forward to sharing it with my kids who will hate it like broccoli.
Channel 34 – Lithium
So this is the station for all those depressed emo kids that I thought would have been listening to 1st Wave. This is grunge, dreary and sad, with incomprehensible and dull lyrics. There is just so much Soundgarden on this channel, you guys. Hard pass.
Channel 35 – XMU
I was kind of looking forward to listening to this station, because, you know, I figured that this was the place to listen to what all the cool college kids were listening to. (I went back to grad school a few years ago, and never did figure out what the cool kids were listening to, but whatever it was it was probably in Chinese.) So I turned on the station, and it was playing Imagine Dragons, and I started to giggle a little bit. If the cool college kids are still listening to Imagine Dragons, they have a lot to answer for. And they play a lot of Vampire Weekend, which you probably could have heard on college radio, oh, I don’t know, a decade ago. Other than that, I could not tell you a single thing about this station other than it sucked.
Channel 36 – Alt Nation
You remember a minute ago where they had the Deep Tracks station? This is like the Deep Tracks version of The Spectrum, with more songs from the same artists they play there, but without any of the classic rock. Not bad but not at all what I was looking for.
Channel 37 – Octane
You remember that one Evanescence song that was this sort of standard Goth ballad thingy and then had a really banging chorus? Remember that? This whole channel is like that chorus. Lots of power guitar chords and silly faux-inspirational lyrics. It might be OK to run across one of those songs, you know, occasionally, in your library shuffle. But you don’t want all of them together unless you’re working out, actually on crystal meth, or trying to psych yourself up for the marketing meeting for the Catalina Island Wine Festival. Hard pass.
Channel 38 – Ozzy’s Boneyard
This is exactly what you think it is, heavy metal, around the clock. There wasn’t a channel on the whole entire Sirius XM lineup that I was dreading more than this, unless it’s Dr. Laura or that weird Canadian country music station. I have gotten to the point where I can respect the musicianship, and if this is your jam I can understand that, but this is absolutely not mine and that’s all I’m going to say about that before I start insulting people.
Channel 39 – Hair Nation
I live in New Jersey, and people run New Jersey down all the time, and it’s usually not fair, but one thing you can say about New Jersey is that it’s the only state in the Union where people listen to Bon Jovi and enjoy it and it’s not meta or ironic. In the Before Times, we used to go to a minor-league baseball park, and they would usually do a singing contest between the first and third base stands, and one side would always get “Sweet Caroline,” and the other side would always get “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Why? Because those are the only two songs you can trust New Jersey people to sing, that’s why. So lots of Bon Jovi on this channel, and it celebrates that spirit – dumb, mindless thrash music without all the pretentious pseudo-philosophy or actual devil music on the heavy metal channel. This is the other station that the woman from the Bowling for Soup song listens to.
Channel 45 – The Heat
I can hear you ask the question, “What happened to Channels 40-44? (Also 47 and a couple of others.) Well, okay, like, I have the limited Sirius-XM channel package, because I don’t particularly care for Howard Stern and don’t want to pay extra for it, and that means that I don’t get the more explicit stations, and would you look at that, I don’t get most of the rap stations, and isn’t that just a terrible thing. I’m so broken up about it. But I said I would listen to all the various stations, and The Heat is a station that I get that plays rap music, and I listened to it for two solid hours and I thought some of it was okay, some of it was quite frankly, gross, and some of it was just weird. (There was one hook from one song that said, over and over again, that the singer had learned to make a cake from Betty Crocker, and okay, wow, you learned to make a cake from Betty Crocker, and I am down with that, because I like cake, but he kept repeating it, and it was just WTF.) And it seems to be a Top 40 station, so it was repetitive.
Channel 48 – Heart and Soul
I liked this station much better; didn’t enjoy everything on it, but it was overall just fine. And the morning DJ guy on there was just excellent, Mike Shannon, loved listening to his voice, would probably just enjoy listening to him read the Philadelphia phone book. (The logo is also very nice.) I don’t think I’m ever going to become a soul music aficionado, but the vocals were very strong on what I listened to, and the music was just fine.
This is a really stupid comparison, and I apologize in advance for making it, but one time I was given tickets to see Wayne Gretzky play for the LA Kings in Reunion Arena against the Dallas Stars. Wayne Gretzky was, unquestionably, undeniably, the best hockey player ever. But I couldn’t tell. I grew up in Texas, where hockey was just another word. What I knew (and still know) about hockey could fit in a very small sack. And Gretzky just looked like another dude out there. I couldn’t appreciate what made him so special. Same thing with soul music, and probably lots of other kinds of music – I can’t tell what makes someone really great at it without the background to appreciate it. I like it okay, but I can’t appreciate it the way it deserves at this point.
Channel 49 – Soul Town
There are worse ways to start your dreary Monday morning commute than listening to James Brown, let me tell you that. The DJ kept saying it was “Motown Monday,” so maybe you don’t get as much Motown as you would get on Monday on the other days of the week, but this was perfectly adequate Motown music and I have to admit that I enjoyed the hell out of it. Just enough of it was unfamiliar that it hit all my basic requirements for a new station–good music, different than what I usually listen to, but not so different that I don’t like it.
Chapter 50 – The Groove
I have pretty much the same review for The Groove as Soul Town – the only difference is that this station plays more Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and what is wrong with that, I ask you? Not much. The only question I have is what would have happened if Michael Jackson had just stayed an R&B singer and not decided to make himself into a super-international pop star idol. Isn’t it maybe just a little bit like Taylor Swift, who was a very good frog in a good pond, and then jumped into a bigger pond to become a bigger frog? (Not that Taylor Swift is a frog or anything, just a saying.) Maybe we need to worry about Taylor Swift a little more than we are currently doing.
Channel 51 – BPM
I switched over to this station from Channel 50 in the middle of a Stevie Wonder song, to something from someone called “Frankie Knuckles.” I initially thought, hey, bit of a comedown, only to be chided by the DJ, who said that Frankie Knuckles was a living legend in electronic dance music. Well, that showed me up, pardner.
My chief objection to this station is that all of the songs are exactly the same. Again, like the Pitbull channel, this is fine club music if you’re going to the club but not exactly what you need when you’re gripping the steering wheel on I-95, trying to get through a Wednesday morning and one meeting after another.
Channel 52 – Diplo’s Revolution
This is exactly the same as the previous channel except that it stops every so often and reminds you that this is “DIPLO’S REVOLUTION,” as though I know or care who or what Diplo is. (He is apparently a music producer who has named himself after a dinosaur, which I gather is something that you get to do if you are a successful enough musical producer.) I was thinking that “hey, this isn’t very revolutionary, to play exactly the same songs that are on that other station,” except that I realized that this probably refers to, yanno, the revolutions per minute that are on a music turntable. Or something like that.
Channel 53 – Sirius XM Chill
I listened to this station for two whole hours and could not tell you the first thing about it other than it was kind of chill, you know? So I will use this space to point out that I am, in my spare time, a novelist, and so when I am writing this, sometimes I put “Chapter 53” instead of “Channel 53,” and I hope you understand if I don’t edit it out every time.
Channel 54 – Studio 54 Radio
What annoyed me the most about this station is that I wasn’t always one hundred percent sure that the songs that they were playing were relics of the 1970’s disco era, or were newer tracks that were trying to sound like 1970’s disco. On one hand, if people were trying to make songs that sounded like songs from the 1970’s, honestly, that’s kind of cool. I can’t think of anyone else who is intentionally doing that. Is anyone trying to sound like Elton John? Billy Joel? If not, why not? Where are the new generations of Eagles or Doobie Brothers? The only person I can think of who is doing that is Sturgill Simpson, but he only sort of accidentally sounds like Waylon Jennings; I don’t think he’s actually trying to be Waylon Jennings. Although I think that if someone cast Sturgill Simpson in a Willie-and-Waylon movie, that would be very cool and I am going to ask the universe for that. Anything to keep from writing about Studio 54 Radio, which I will never willingly listen to again, because it plays disco.
Channel 55 – The Garth Channel
One of the most interesting questions of the twenty-first century is whether Peyton Manning is really a giant cheeseball. I don’t think that he is. I think that Peyton Manning is really a galactically smart human being who has, for some unaccountable reason, decided to play the part of a giant cheeseball for his entire career. I think that this is why he hasn’t condescended to do Monday Night Football, even though ESPN would back the money truck up to his door if he wanted to do that. I don’t think he can keep up the pretense for three straight hours. I think the mask would fall, and we would all know that it was an act.
I say that to say this; I had the same question about Garth Brooks, and after just an hour listening to his Sirius XM station, let me tell you this. If Peyton Manning is a giant cheeseball, Garth Brooks is twice the cheeseball that he is. This is Cheeseball Radio that we’re listening to–it’s everything that Garth likes, which (on one hand) is very good, because it’s eclectic as all hell, but (on the other hand) it is just an amazing collection of crap. Lots of Garth music? Of course. But if you want to find a station that plays both George Jones and Bruno Mars, well, this is it. That’s the list. Everything on here is a huge, giant, popular hit from its time period, and it’s curated by someone who is both a commercial musical genius and someone who has no taste whatsoever. Remember when I said that one of the early stations was Applebee’s? This is the Cheesecake Factory station; they have everything, in large portions, with thousands and thousands of calories, drenched in sugar, and there’s always a line to get in. And it is–well, not just fine. Better than just fine, but only a little bit. I can see myself listening to this, and hating myself. (But they aren’t playing Chris Gaines, or at least not yet, so there’s THAT.)
Channel 56 – The Highway
I listened to this for a week, to be fair. And I survived. I may have mentioned that I am a Texan, and that I am 52 years old, and that means that everything recorded in modern mainstream Clear Channel radio-ready country music except for George Strait is utter crap. So I was prepared for the worst. I was prepared for the complete absence of steel guitar and twin fiddles. I was prepared for Auto-Tune and rap-influenced rhythms and endless songs braying about how fun it is to live in Frog Stump, Arkansas, really, you have no idea.
There is a good bit of this stuff on The Highway. It’s a Top 40 format, so you hear the same things over and over again. There is a Florida-Georgia Line song out now with a chorus that goes “SITTIN’ HERE, DRINKIN’ BEER, TALKIN’ GOD AMEN” which got burned into my cortex for three or four days. But it wasn’t all that terrible, and it pains me to say that. Most of the music was irritating (including both the morning and afternoon DJs, who are about 500% more chatty than I would like). Some of it was something close to traditional country; at least they were making an effort. But here and there, I heard a few gems, stuff that gave me hope, as follows:
- “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones,” Eric Church, which sounded just stripped-down and weird enough to catch my attention, although the ending is dorky enough to make me audibly groan.
- “Half of My Hometown,” Kelsea Ballerini, good stuff, about leaving the South, which is hard to do, y’all.
- “More Hearts Than Mine,” Ingrid Andress, which is just SO DAMN GOOD, you have no idea.
Channel 57 – No Shoes Radio
I like Kenny Chesney, and I wanted to like this station, but I really couldn’t do it. It’s basically the same idea as Margaritaville – Margaritaville plays the same stuff, with more Buffett and less Chesney. But it’s the same song in a different key. This is the thing: Kenny Chesney is a great guy and an outstanding artist and is making traditional country music in an era where it’s forgotten, but he is also the greatest living apostle of depressing country music now that George Jones is dead. And look, there’s nobody who appreciates really depressing country music more than me. But I think there’s a difference between listening to depressing country music when you’re, you know, depressed, and when you’re depressed because it’s Monday morning and you have to drive an hour to work. So, no.
Channel 58 – Prime Country
I knew every one of these songs, could sing them to you in four-part harmony if I could do that. If someone had come on and said, “This is KSCS, Dallas-Fort Worth, 96.2 FM,” I would not have been a bit surprised. And there’s something to be said for familiarity, but that’s not what I’m trying to accomplish.
Channel 59 – Willie’s Roadhouse
I was listening to Willie’s Roadhouse, which is primarily, you know, country from the 50’s and 60’s, and they were playing an Alan Jackson song of comparatively recent vintage, which, okay, I’m cool with that. And then they played an older version of the same song, just as if to say, this country music game’s been going on a long time, sonny boy. I knew a lot of these songs, but not all of them–enough to make the station familiar and different. This is in my regular country rotation; it’ll stay there, I guess.
Channel 60 – Outlaw Country
This is by far my favorite of the Sirius XM country stations – it’s not really “outlaw country,” if you’re talking about Waylon and Willie, but “outlaw” as far as “too country for Clear Channel.” I used to listen to it more than I do now–in part because I got cordially sick of Mojo Nixon, self-professed booger-eating moron, who is the afternoon DJ. I like most of what’s on here, tolerate the rest, and occasionally find a new artist that I like, but that’s about it as far as this process goes.