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Published: Friday, 9/5/2008

Pay radio is a bargain for music lovers

One of the joys of retirement is having the time to discover and enjoy some of the fun things in life, especially the frills that don t break the bank.

I m going to share with my fellow seniors one of those affordable, recent discoveries.

To me. a frill is something that I have always gotten along nicely without and could continue to do so quite easily in the future. It s usually economically prudent for some retirees to do just that, especially on a fixed income.

But something that costs less than a couple of specialty coffee drinks a month is unlikely to break the bank for many seniors. I should pass up those high-caffeine, high-calorie drinks every time, anyway.

I am continually amused how a coffee shop can occasionally add a word, like soy or skim or whipped, etc., and add 50 cents per extra word to the cost of its basic product. But I digress.

Still, it s hard to rationalize some things, no matter how inexpensive, when they are also available free.

I m talking about music, especially the stuff disguised as music that is broadcast free of charge over the airwaves.

I am an unabashed music lover. My extensive collection of vinyl albums, cassette tapes and compact discs numbers in the thousands.

The music I choose to hear depends on my mood at a given moment, whether I m spending serious time in my car, sitting at my computer, or doing nothing but listening.

I have been a regular music reviewer for The Blade for more than 20 years, regularly critiquing country, blues, New Age and world music. That gives me a solid base of good music for my enjoyment. The vast majority of my music, however, was bought at local stores.

I have large numbers of classical, big band, Forties and Fifties pop, early rock n roll, early jazz, Dixieland and folk music. I also am fond of contemporary Latin, reggae, electronic, house and dance music, which helps me shed my codger status when any teens are with me in my car.

Unfortunately, my overwhelming choices in music mean that I must tote a large compact disc case when I travel so I can play what appeals to me at the time. The free radio on AM or FM is limited by the narrow playlists at each station, and that doesn t turn me on at all.

Or I could pay several hundred dollars for an iPod or similar music device and put in several hundred hours loading large segments of my music collection for listening on the go.

Now, however, and here s where I share my discovery with you, I turn on the satellite radio in my car.

If satellite radio sounds like a complicated way to pay for something that you can get at no cost, read on.

If you spend $12.95 a month or more, about the price of a single compact disc, then the satellite radio is a genuine bargain.

How did I discover this? It came standard in the late-model used car I recently acquired. As a bonus, the satellite radio network gave me six months of free service to see if I liked the product.

Well, the jury is in, and the verdict is unanimous. I cannot imagine ever having another vehicle without the satellite radio.

So far as I know, satellite radio comes in two flavors: Sirius and XM. The brand of satellite radio you get in your car depends on which car maker is in cahoots with which brand.

For example, Cadillac and many General Motors cars, plus an assortment of foreign autos, come equipped with XM radio. Chrysler and Ford, plus the other foreign autos, come Sirius-equipped.

Each satellite radio brand offers more than 160 stations of crystal-clear digital sound, with a menu of stations devoted to a single genre, such as Forties, country, New Age, classical, etc., 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It s all basically commercial-free too.

There are also stations devoted to news, comedy, kids, weather and sports.

The best part for seniors is that the music they love most but can rarely find on commercial radio stations is readily available by way of satellite.

The sports choices may help determine which satellite radio you prefer, since XM radio offers live broadcasts of every major league baseball game, and Sirius delivers pro football and basketball. It remains unclear, as far as I know, whether the recent merger of XM and Sirius will affect that difference.

If your current wheels don t come with the satellite radio option already installed, it can be added on. And you can pick up a portable radio to take that wide range of music with you when not in your vehicle.

When I travel with retirees in my age group or older, the stations most often requested play stuff from the Forties or Fifties. If I drop them off and load up with teen-agers, I don t have to fumble with a case of discs, but just change the channel. Otherwise, the refrain turns to Yuck! What is that music?

As a bonus, because I subscribe to one of the satellite radio services, I can fire up my Internet browser as I work on the computer and listen to the same stations I get in my car. At no additional cost.

The discretionary money I don t spend anymore on compact discs now is available for use elsewhere. Like at the gas pump.

Jim Pettican commented on Even the losers win among these seniors

Gambling fans here (Florida) do not get to cross an international border, but for years many of them have gone to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Your column is a public service to the elderly citizens of Toledo who might be contemplating a day at a casino and will now know what to expect.



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