Are you ready for a new medium that offers listeners an uncensored experience? It's called satellite radio and thankfully, at the present time, it is not overseen by the US government. Like the web, the adult nature of the medium is going to build a sizeable listenership very quickly. Within a few years, look for an audience of ten million. Although they will come looking for adult content, once they get there, those listeners are going to be checking out the other offerings on the services as well.
Howard Stern, the self-pronounced "King of All Media" made satellite radio a viable medium with his recent announcement that he will abandon terrestrial radio for Sirius in 2006. Stern's daily audience is estimated at twelve million listeners, mostly males in that much coveted 25-40 demographic, which makes his move significant.
The two satellite radio companies, Sirius and XM, have been around for several years, presenting a cool mix of music and talk radio to a combined audience now hovering around three million listeners.
Both satellite radio services offer more than a hundred stations, tremendous diversity, and great reception. If you have a satellite equipped car radio and you're driving from city to city, you can stay with the same station, sans commercials. The web has no shortage of stations, but at this moment, the web isn't very portable, although it's only matter of time before that changes.
Unlike traditional commercial radio, instead of generating their revenue from advertisers, these satellite services make their money from subscribers. Although they have many channels for many tastes, the subscriber base for satellite radio hasn't grown significantly since its inception several years ago. To enhance their value, both Sirius and XM have started to produce their own programming.
The same thing happened with HBO back in the early days of cable. They started with Hollywood movies but it was their original programming that set them apart.
In addition to Stern's upcoming debut, Sirius is producing Eminem's "Uncensored," and XM has recently started a morning news program with Bob Edwards, an exile from NPR. (Like Jazz, Edwards was unceremoniously dropped from the NPR lineup.)
XM has four Jazz stations, and Sirius, six, offering America's home-grown art form in parts of the country where it is not be found on traditional radio. You can draw your own conclusions about their Jazz programming by trying out the stations online:
You can try XM Radio Online free for three days. Sirius also has a three day free promotion. The Sirius player didn't work on my system but you may have a different user experience. Better yet, visit your local consumer electronics retailer and listen to both services.
The reason Stern chose to leave broadcast radio is because he'll be able to say, and do, anything he pleases, without the government's broadcast police in his face. The FCC has been on Stern's case for years over obscenity, and the stations that broadcast his sexually oriented morning program have paid significant fines because of his potty mouth.
Shakespeare he ain't, but with pop culture wired directly to our genitals, he'll find even greater success letting it all hang out. Howard Stern Uncensored will feature every four letter word in the book, as well as the most gratuitous sexual acts possible, broadcast live on the radio every day of the week. Millions of people are now going to pay for the privilege of hearing a non-holds barred version of Stern's rather twisted universe.
Once again, in the tradition of the VCR and the Internet, we see how pornography drives technology. Before the VCR, those in search of "adult" entertainment were driven to sleazy theatres. The VCR took off quickly because it served as a delivery medium for very "personal" entertainment. The same thing with the Net.
Thirty years ago, when cable television was in its infancy, many people asked, "why should I pay for television when I can get it for free?" Then came hundreds of new channels, and HBO, with programming that made broadcast television seem tame.
The same thing is happening with radio. The FCC has totally sanitized the medium, and Clear Channel's domination of medium has taken the heart and soul out of the medium.
Who is Clear Channel? Well my friends, Clear Channel owns over 1,200 radio stations and 37 television stations, with investments in 240 radio stations globally. They are in 248 of the top 250 radio markets, controlling 60% of all rock programming. They own the network that airs Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Michael Savage, and the Fox News Radio Channel. With 103,000,000 listeners in the U.S. and 1,000,000,000 globally (1/6 of the world population), this powerful company has grown unchecked. There's a right wing, conservative agenda is place at Clear Channel and their influence on the music industry is also rather frightening. Driving across America, most commerical radio stations that play music utilize the same playlist.
As for the politically motivated Federal Communications Commissionleave this page now if you don't want to be shocked)the harder the FCC sodomizes the airwaves, the more satellite radio is going to blossom. Listeners want choices and some prefer adult programming. Open minded people are going to flock to satellite radio. It's just like cable TT, which has flourished as a wacky, arty alternative to the pabulum of the networks.
And with the success of these two services, the market for this medium will find new players, with perhaps even more niche programming. Instead of handful of Jazz radio stations, there will be hundreds. From my perspective, the more outlets, the better.
However, depending on the current political climate, I don't think we've heard the last word on satellite radio censorship. The re-election of George Bush, which is no longer a foregone conclusion, could easily make censorship even worse.
For one thing, Clear Channel has a majority interest in XM Radio. If the agenda of their current stations is any indication, this is a very conservative company with Victorian attitudes. Yet on XM, there is premium programming from Playboy, and Stern's competitors Opie and Anthony spewing their X-radio offerings daily.
If they make lot of money from adult programming, Clear Channel will probably stay with it But still, offering a nationwide forum to hate-mongers like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage does tell us something about Clear Channel's intentions.
Caution: This link goes to content that could upset some people: Listen to Michael Savage's Howard Stern Rant
Speaking of the first amendment, Michael Moore was out here in Tucson the other day. He spoke to an enthusiastic audience for nearly two hours. The only problem was the hundred or so "Republican" hecklers who keep interrupting him. At first, Moore was amused and played off of them. Then he offered them one minute to vent. But they just wouldn't stop. Every time he tried to speak, they would scream. This went on for nearly an hour. Finally, they had to be escorted from the hall.
The next day, in the local papers, some of these "activists" were interviewed and said that Michael Moore was violating their free speech rights because they were not allowed to stay in the hall.
These self-avowed Bush supporters certainly have an interesting perspective on free speech. What would happen if someone heckled Ann Coulter like that?