NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Satellite Radio Signals Massive Shift

When Howard Stern and Bob Dylan Head There, Something's Up

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Now that Howard Stern has abandoned terrestrial radio for satellite and Bob Dylan has decided to do his first-ever radio-hosting gig on satellite, it seems that the floodgates have been opened.

Stern goes on Sirius with his daily show on Jan. 9. Dylan joins XM in March with a weekly one-hour talk, interview and music show. Satellite radio is rapidly becoming not just an alternative but the major radio vehicle for serious listeners, judging from indications I see and people I talk to.

I’ve been listening to Sirius for several months and like it quite a bit, overall. (Note: In the interest of fairness, I will test-drive XM as soon as possible and get back to you with a report.)

I was initially attracted to satellite because I love radio and wanted to check out the newest developments. The novelty of a satellite signal that would be constant, wherever you were, was especially appealing.

I was drawn to Sirius mainly because of its Outlaw Country channel. I noticed that my old friend, Mojo Nixon, was one of the hosts on Sirius Outlaw Country, and then the great Cowboy Jack Clement also signed on as an Outlaw host, followed soon after by Shooter Jennings. Their musical lineups are what I would program for myself for an afternoon if I had the time: Waylon, Willie, Haggard, Hank, Lucinda, Gram Parsons, Emmylou, Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Earle and on and on.

In talking to friends outside the south, especially in the Northeast, it’s sometimes hard to convince them that … a) Country fans do actually buy CDs because we spend a lot of time in our cars and trucks and actually like listening to CDs; and b) Country fans love listening to radio because we spend a lot of time in our cars and trucks and like listening to radio, mainly because of its sense of community. A friend of mine at work here in Nashville told me recently that she got into a rental car in Los Angeles, turned on the car radio and thought that she had discovered the coolest local country radio station ever — only to discover there was a Sirius radio in the rent-a-car.

I’ve made two drives to Florida recently and found satellite radio to be a godsend, both in keeping me awake and entertained. There are vast areas between Nashville and the Florida panhandle where terrestrial radio reception is very limited and sometimes virtually nonexistent. With satellite, I could jump from Cowboy Jack’s Outlaw show to any number of college football games to NPR to bluegrass to the all-Rolling Stones channel to classic country to weather. That beats popping CDs in and out of the changer for hundreds of miles.

In my office and my home office, I like having a vast array of radio resources at my fingertips, from the BBC to reggae to jazz to blues to classical music to Little Steven’s Underground Garage rock channel to comedy. There is a real spirit of adventure on display there that has been absent in many ventures coming from the big media conglomerates of late. People notice that. And they flock to it. It’s just a marketplace lesson: Give the people what they want and they will come.

For those who are too young to remember, there actually were some magical radio days in recent years, when stations like WSM beamed the Grand Ole Opry across North America and spread the gospel of country music to farms and small towns everywhere. And stations like Nashville’s pioneering R&B outlet WLAC sent out a strong, steady beat of rhythm and blues and changed the history of popular music in altering the listening audience’s musical tastes as well as the way that many young, aspiring performers perceived and then approached music.

And there were the reckless years when Border Radio flaunted tradition in ways that satellite radio hasn’t yet dared. Border Radio — look it up, you’ll be rewarded — consisted of a series of powerful outlaw radio stations broadcasting across North America from just across the border in Mexico and offering a mind-bending array of music, hucksterism, religion and sheer entertainment. That sort of sense of infinite possibility is what has always made radio such an irresistible medium.

It appears now that satellite radio is goosing terrestrial radio to upgrade itself and offer new features and more innovative avenues for its listeners. I’m glad about that, because I love local and regional radio and local flavor and love hearing the likes of Gerry House, who keeps his finger on the pulse — if not the jugular vein — of Nashville. Long live radio.