Sirius Doubts


Is it not all that? The Howard Stern Show on Sirius satellite radio got off to a bumpy start in its debut when Star Trek alum George Takei flubbed the introduction of the show’s star. From there, the show was good but not great, and not that new. To me, it was like a DJ moving to a new station and doing a similar shtick. It can be argued that it’s a work in progress, but it was not a groundbreaking change in humor, wackiness or shock.

What it was was familiar. Howard Stern and his family of dysfunctional characters have always tried to say what folks are afraid of saying. And if you’re a proponent of the First Amendment, you gotta appreciate his right to rave about bodily functions as if it were breaking news from Baghdad. Stern is filling up two stations on Sirius, 100 and 101. That doesn’t mean it’s all new stuff all the time. The Stern show is repeated twice daily on 100, for instance, and after the live show, there’s a one-hour wrap-up show, which is kind of like Wolf Blitzer’s analysis of a Bush speech with Jeff Greenfield chiming in—except there’s ranting and humor involved. What seems evident at this point is the distillation of the Stern show’s cast during the times when Stern isn’t live. There’s a fan roundtable, a show with Gary Dell’Abate, and six hours a day of so-called “Howard Stern” news. Even for the Howard Stern fan (as opposed to fanatic), the news portion can be tedious.

Some shows, which are said to be on-the-air in the online program guide are actually not on-air. There are merely ‘coming soon’ when you click on their icons for more info. The more titillating or interesting offerings, like “Lesbian Dial A Date” and a show with Howard’s parents, are in development, and who knows when they’ll air? If I were buying Sirius only for Howard Stern and the varied shows he touted during recent interviews, I would wait until the other shows are really airing before plunking down my hard-earned cash. The kinks need to be worked out.

When Stern was out and about for interviews on Jon Stewart and Larry King, he touted a portable, iPod-like device which plays all the satellite stations and lets you record a show or songs for later viewing. Like the Stern channels, the S50 is good but not great. It IS a terrific looking, lightweight piece of technology, sleek and small. But here’s the caveat. What you record is portable as playback material. Live stuff isn’t portable. For that, you put the S50 in its deck in your home or car, and attach a long wire with a flat round antenna to get reception. You can’t traverse the length of Grand Street and listen to, say, Morningwood’s in-studio performance as it happens. Also, the interface for recording is clunky and hard to figure out, as are the poorly written instructions detailing how to record a song or a show. I’m not a big fan of the iPod, but the designers really should have riffed on the control wheel idea to make this unit far more user friendly. At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, rival XM radio and Pioneer premiered the Inno and Samsung, the Helo, both of which let you play XM satellite radio live as you trod the streets—independent of a cradle. And both sport better user interfaces than the S50. I’m a bigger fan of Sirius than I am of XM. But one thing’s clear: the satellite wars have heated up to become white hot, and Sirius should get to work on something similar—fast.