Wednesday (03-July-2013) — New Jersey

The Rise and Fall of Satellite Book Radio

Several years ago as I was about to do a road trip across the United States, I did two things that changed my life. One was to take a recommendation from my brother to get a DSLR to take pictures of the trip. I ordered a Nikon D200 camera with a kit 18-70 mm lens and added an 80-400 mm VR lens. The other thing that I did was to get a satellite radio for the car. In those days there were two options for satellite radio XM and Sirius. Just before leaving I got both an XM and Sirius receiver and figured that I would try both out during the trip. Just for baseline, I didn’t have a cell-phone (let alone a smart phone). The car radio received AM, FM and weather channels. It also played music from a cassette and a 6-CD player. I was looking forward to listening to radio as I drove across the country without having to constantly searching for channels. Searching for channels on previous road trips had a real pain if you wanted to listen to something other than top 40, country, or rural news about wheat, soybean, or corn futures. When I did find a NPR/APR station and start listening to a program (Prairie Home Companion) or news, I would have to be prepared to search for another station playing the same program as I moved from city to city. Thus, I really was looking forward to see what satellite radio could offer. Back in those ancient times the car radio/music systems didn’t have an auxiliary input for other sources. The two options for the satellite radio receivers were adapters that used a cassette module or converted the signal to a low power FM radio signal. I tried both, but found that the cassette module was more reliable. I started my trip across the country. It was great that I didn’t need to change channels as I passed from city to city – but there were too many channels to choose from. It was good to find that some of the NPR/APR programs – but was disappointed that they did not play NPR news. I guess that the local NPR stations felt that if NPR news was on satellite that their local fund-raising would dry up. For me the real jewel was to find Sonic Theater on the XM satellite channel. I could listen to unabridged Books and Radio Theater (including Joe Frank, and ZBS that I hadn’t heard since I was in Pasadena or Boston. There was also an old-time radio channel (I don’t remember if it was XM or Sirius). I could drive for hours and hours lost in the programs and find myself one or two states closer to my destination. After this cross-country trip, I was totally hooked on Digital Photography and Satellite Radio. Move forward a few years and Satellite Radio (Sirius) was included in my new car. I would time my commute to and from work to listen to programs on the Book and Old Time channels. I did miss a few programs on XM radio (including The Loft and Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight program) which I listened to on the old XM receiver in my house. When I got my RV (Road Trek) for my road trip to Alaska in 2009 it had an XM Satellite radio. For most of the trip to Alaska I was actually able to receive a signal all the way to Anchorage as long as the satellite antenna was on top of the RV (and in a few cases, I had to have the vehicle point south). Fast forward again, XM and Sirius merged – but still needed two radio receivers to get all of the programs. Book Radio became my favorite channel and I would time my commute to and from work to listen to the books being read. Last year after I retired and was no longer doing the long (1-1.5 hour each way) daily commute, I would go and sit in my car in the morning and afternoon so not to miss the books being read. It must have looked weird for the neighbors to see me sit in the car each morning and evening. When I upgraded my home stereo, I made sure it included a Satellite Radio receiver so I could listen to the programs inside. Fast forward again, I just returned from nearly two months on the Semester at Sea Spring 2013 Enrichment Voyage. I heard a comment on one of the Book Radio programs that they were going off the air in mid-July. I couldn’t believe it, but then heard it again on another program. When I did some checking on the Internet, I saw that Sirius channel 80 which had been Book Radio will be replace by Rural Radio. So Books and Radio Theater are being replaced by farm prices, and rodeos. I guess that I should have seen this coming since the advertisements on the Book Radio channel had been degrading to the same ones that show up on “late night TV” – thus Sirius/XM was losing money on this channel. For me, unless I find something else I like on one of the other satellite channels I will not be renewing my two to Sirius/XM subscriptions. Actually, the radio (and GPS) wasn’t working in my car for my recent trip to and from Florida so I have all ready started to withdraw from my daily fix from Book Radio. RIP – Book Radio

"The Other Boleyn Girl" Solarium Deck on the M/V Columbia Alaska Marine Highway. Image taken with a Nikon D3 and 50 mm f/1.4D lens (ISO 1600, 50 mm, f/4, 1/160 sec). (David J Mathre)
“The Other Boleyn Girl” Solarium Deck on the MV Columbia Alaska Marine Highway. Image taken with a Nikon D3 camera and 50 mm f/1.4D lens (ISO 1600, 50 mm, f/4, 1/160 sec). (David J Mathre)

Author: David Mathre

I am a scientist by training (Eckerd College, BSc; Caltech, Ph.D.). I worked for 27 years as a Chemist in the Pharmaceutical Industry developing processes to manufacture medicines for human and animal health. I now spend my time as a photographer updating images in My Image of the Day Photoblog, and My eBird (with images of nearly 450 bird species). hope post COVID-19 to be a world traveler again. My interests include the natural world, wildlife, landscapes, sky, and seascapes, travel, and astrophotography. I look for unique ways of viewing the world and presenting my images. I have traveled to over 55 countries in six continents, often on Semester at Sea voyages. While at home in New Jersey, I spend time on home renovation and expansion of a wildflower garden/meadow.

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