radio


ped·ant – noun: a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules.

Here in the greater Los Angeles area we’re blessed with not one, but two excellent public radio stations, KCRW at 89.9 FM and KPCC at 89.3 FM. The former operates out of Santa Monica College and the latter out of Pasadena City College.

I’ve personally always been a KPCC’er, I guess ever since my stint in the mid-to-late ’90s first as a freelancer and finally for a spell as editor of a local weekly newspaper in Pasadena — my allegiance probably had a lot to do with location and also the fact that one of the station’s “stars,” Larry Mantle, would occasionally have me on his public access TV program to discuss issues facing the area. But in the ensuing years since the dawn of the new millennium as a satellite radio subscriber, my commercial radio listenership of any channels had fallen off dramatically.

A few weeks ago, though, I was driving home from work and because I hit a deadzone that blanked out the Sirius satellite music channel I typically listen to, I clicked over to the FM band on my stereo and found myself at KCRW. It had been awhile since I’d listened to public radio and found the news and views a welcome change.

But whether it was that specific day or one shortly thereafter, their traffic reporter came on and referenced an accident on the “east” 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley, and though I had a minor physical reaction to the error at the time, I really thought nothing of it until over the course of several days and reports she did it again and again; “East on the 101 at White Oak there’s a collision blocking the No. 1 lane,” West on the 101 at Coldwater Canyon a stalled vehicle has been moved over to the shoulder…”

What’s my problem? Like any and all of our nation’s roadways, The 101 Freeway runs a specific direction, in this case: north/south. Period. To my knowledge there is no highway anywhere that officially changes direction just because it doesn’t happen to literally go in the figurative direction it is originally designated.

My other problem is that I’m a proud and entirely unapologetic card-carrying member of Pedantics International whose motto is “There Is No Detail Too Small Or Meaningless Upon Whose Error We Will Not Fixate.” Or is it “Miniscule” instead of “Small?” See what I mean?

As yes: That Pedant, I was compelled to go that extra step of seeking out and finding the traffic reporter’s email address on the KCRW website and thus send her a polite attempt to redirect her to correctly refer to the 101 Freeway by its proper directions, like so:

I enjoy and appreciate your afternoon traffic reports and the enthusiasm you bring to them, but I would like to respectfully point out that every time you refer to incidents on the 101 Freeway as occurring on the “east” or “west” sides, the traffic gods disable a Prius. The 101 has been, is and always should be referred to as a north/south thoroughfare:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_101

Humbly submitted,
Will Campbell

To which I received the following polite reply:

Hi Will! I’m glad you like my reports! Thanks for taking the time
to write! I hardly ever get to engage one-on-one with listeners.
Technically, you are right, the 101 is a North/South freeway. However, due to the topography of the State, like in the San Fernando Valley & Conejo Valley it literally runs east and west from Burbank into Ventura County. It runs North/South geographically speaking at the 134. You may or may not know the 134 runs east and west. In Studio City if you stayed straight on the 101 and didn’t take the turn into Hollywood it becomes the 134. By turning South you stay on the 101. It is that section, as well as the area of northern Ventura county into Central & Northern California that it actually runs north and south. Even the on-ramps onto the freeway, say in Thousand Oaks for example, are marked East 101 and West 101.

As far as your Prius is concerned, she may just need a spa day. Take her to a nice car wash and get her insides vacuumed. And tell her to pull it together – you’re the one in charge.

While she is certainly correct that the 101 does follow an east/west trajectory through the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, I was surprised that she’d sacrifice accuracy in truly believing such a deviation qualified as an official directional change, and frankly I was entirely blown away at her insistence it was signed accordingly through those stretches.

So of course I wrote back proving her wrong (images biggable if clicked):

I appreciate the response, but with your rejection of my attempt to correct your error the Prius has sadly committed hybridicide. The 101 is in its entirety officially designated and posted as a north/south roadway, regardless of segments that you point out do indeed traverse along an east/west course. Case in point, attached is a Google Streetview image, say in Thousand Oaks for example, of a 101 SOUTH onramp. Show me a single 101 Freeway entry point that says EAST or WEST and I’ll show you a Caltrans sign hanger who made a mistake.

south101

Unwritten at the end of that last sentence was “…and a traffic reporter who believes it as fact.” Curiously the only thing she responded with was… this:

image1

Huh. Anyway, a few days passed with no other contact and I was surprised to hear her refer on-air to incidents involving the 101 as occurring in the north or south lanes. The rub was those incidents hadn’t occurred in the valleys so it was unclear if she had come to see the light or hadn’t. Then came this to my inbox:

Hi Will. Hope you are doing well.
Here are a couple of screen shots from two of my traffic sources I thought your Prius might find upsetting. California Highway Patrol considered the authority regarding traffic information. Better put the hybrid on suicide watch. 😉

image1

Sigh. Should you click on the above screen shot you’ll find the CHP does indeed and wrongly refer to an incident through the valley as occurring on the “US101E / Las Virgenes Road. EB101” Below that is another incident “US101E / Coldwater Canyon. EB 101.” That explained a lot, which I elaborated on in the following farewell:

Prius, still dead. Buried even. In your honor I now have a 1968 Chevrolet Caprice convertible with an eight-cylinder 404 engine and I actually put a dose of lead additive in the tank every time you call the 101 wrong. On the good side, it’s a relief to know it’s not your fault, but on the bad side the old adages of “you’re only as good as your source,” and “if it’s on the internet it must be true” stand up. I appreciate knowing that you’re blaming a law enforcement agency because the police are never wrong and almost always justified even when they are.

I personally recommend Caltrans, which would be the actual authority on our state’s roadways. They also have an awesome traffic mapping system (http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov) that you should check out some time.

But in case you’re too busy with the CHP you’ll note in this latest edition of Disproving Your Misinformation, I’ve attached a screen grab of the Caltrans Cam on the 101 SOUTH at Los Virgenes. It’ll also be my last attempt because frankly it’s time for me to humbly surrender the fast lane to you. I’ve given you concrete proof that refuted your initial all-too-confident assertion as to the highway’s signage, and you give me pixels on a screen that allow you to proudly perpetuate in the east/west myth. I gave it my best shot and failed. You go girl.

caltrans

I said at the top, we here in the greater Los Angeles area are blessed to be able to choose between two public radio stations. The subtext in surrendering the fast lane is that I also surrendered the station to her and moved (south, not west) down the dial to good ol’ KPCC. Of course in doing so, I run the risk of hearing their traffic reporter make the same mistake. It hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, I’m thinking I’ll be able to refrain from picking that same battleflag up again. In fact, I’m pretty sure. Mostly.

I heard the news via an unlikely source on January 28, 1986. I was in my Mazda GLC going from my apartment in Van Nuys to my job in the small business complex behind the gas station Barham Boulevard deadends into in the Cahuenga Pass. I was traveling on the gridlocked southbound 170 Freeway approaching the 134 interchange it passes under to become the 101. I was probably late.

I was listening to Rick Dees on KIIS-FM as I usually did, and coming back from a commercial break instead of launching into more of his usual shenanigans he spoke in a tone that was part solemn and part disbelieving in telling his listeners that the Challenger space shuttle had apparently exploded shortly after lift-off a few minutes earlier, reportedly killing all seven astronauts on-board.

To this day I’m not sure why the news hit me so hard, but I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach by it. Overcome with sorrow I burst into tears, and sobbed as I crept my car along with the slow flow of vehicles while Dees and his on-air cohorts discussed what they knew and what they didn’t.

Eventually they ran out of things to say and put on a melancholy, reflective song that was a hit back then. It was “Life In A Northern Town,” by The Dream Academy. And just as my waterworks started to dry up, the song got to the last stanza of lyrics that close like this:

And though he never would wave goodbye,
You could see it written in his eyes,
As the train rolled out of sight,
Bye-bye.

I didn’t know who or what the song had been written about. All I knew was that those last few lines spoke of someone’s death, and for me from that point on they became about the Challenger crew never getting a chance to wave goodbye, of the space shuttle rolling out of sight and the sad and slow byyyyyyyyyyyyye byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye reflecting mine and the country’s heartbreak and loss.

I can hear this song today without so much as choking up, but it never fails to transport me back to that moment of profound tragedy.

Later that evening President Ronald Reagan was to give his State of the Union address, but postponed it and instead spoke to the nation about the disaster, closing with:

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”

They were: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

stickerz

There are two stickers on the rear window of my truck that need to come off. Both are homebrew and have been there awhile. One demonstrates my support for a local radio station that until this week did its best to buck the system. The other showcases, somewhat cheekily, my ceaseless disappointment in the man tasked with leading this nation these past eight years.

They’re coming off — one sadly and one happily — because neither are little more than memories.

The satellite radio scene got bumped to a bigger blip on the radar in large part because of the announcement this week that the Justice Department’s anti-trust busters have given the proposed $4.6-billion merger of Sirius and XM corporations a hearty thumbs-up.

Chances are this doesn’t mean much to most people who receive their radiowaves terrestrially, but as a long-time Sirius subscriber I’m paying it some attention, primarily because of the rumors I’ve heard that should the merger be approved by the FCC, my current Sirius equipment might become obsolete in that I would still receive Sirius programming, but not whatever former-XM channels get ported over. In order to do that I would of course need to “upgrade” my hardware at a cha-ching of a several hundies.

Coincidentally this morning I got a call from a Sirius telemarketer looking to send me a new free radio with a 45% discounted additional subscription ($irius is $et up in $uch a way that one can’t get a new radio added to a current $ub$cription; each box need$ to have it$ own… but that’$ another topic entirely and all right I’ll stop it with the dollar signs).

I expressed my concern to the telemarketer as to buying equipment now that might be programming impaired post-merger and the representative put me on with her supervisor who assured me that would not happen, and when I asked him to provide me with something in writing, he instead directed me to siriusmerger.com where he told me the writing I sought was there in black and white.

Sort of.

Here’s what Sirius has posted:

“If our merger is approved, the combined company will offer consumers the best of each service on your current radio – at a price well below the cost of the two services today.”

Sounds good, right? On the surface yeah, but my skepticality looks at “best of each service on your current radio” and sees a position that craftily reinforces the separation of the two entities. Notice the use of “each” and the singular “service” instead of “both” and “services.” Big difference.

But wait, there’s more at the bottom of that page:

“We guarantee no radio will become obsolete. Your current radio will continue to provide you with the programming you enjoy, whether you keep your current service or change to a new subscription plan. “

Again at first glance this looks solid. But on second pass it’s basically a thinly veiled statement of the obvious that tells me Sirius radios will continue to receive Sirius programming and XM radios will continue to receive XM programming.

As a result of that cagy language and at Sirius’ invitation I utilized a form letter page on their website to send the following email to my elected officials in Washington, DC, and the FCC, with the subject line: Concerns About Hardware Obsolesence Following Sirius/XM Merger.

Honorable Senators, Representative, and the FCC:

In the guarantee posted to the Sirius website, it states:

“…that that no Sirius radio will become obsolete as a result of the merger. The two companies have millions of radios in the market, including many that are factory-installed in automobiles. After the merger, you will not need another radio to continue to receive the programming you now enjoy.”

This statement is ambiguous and frankly disingenuous in that it does not specifically address new programming. While I understand that my current Sirius hardware will continue to receive the Sirius programming I presently access, what remains unaddressed and vague is whether or not that hardware will allow me to access any new programming brought over from the former XM.

I am a long-time and mostly satisfied Sirius subscriber but since the buyout was announced  I have abstained and will continue to abstain from purchasing new hardware in this pre-merger interim. I am satisfied that existing Sirius programming will be available to me with my old radio, but I’m not going to upgrade my equipment if there’s even the slightest doubt that it will not support any new programming should the merger be completed.

Unless this is specifically addressed by Sirius I will wait out the merger before buying rather than buy now only to be forced buy again to enjoy any combined programming — which would not happen because I would cancel my subscription rather than allow myself to suffer such bait-and-switch tactics.

Sincerely,
William Campbell

It’s a little thing really. But I’ve had Sirius satellite radio for about a year. Susan got it for me last Christmas. Had it installed in my truck and even sprung for the boombox that the car unit can plug into so we have it in the house or just about anywhere.

Without going into too much detail, I gave up on listening to it on the road because the signal was weak and whatever music was playing too often skipped into prolonged periods of silence like a bad CD. I even called Sirius up and told them to cancel my subscription at the end of the quarter I’d paid for, but they just kept right on billing me after the agreed upon time — I know, that’s major bullshit on Sirius’ part. But I didn’t raise a stink because I found that I’d fire up the boombox on occasion and the reception was significantly better than in my vehicle. Still not perfect, but much better.

Now that I’m embarking on my plan to work from home, I obviously have lots more opps to listen to the channels Sirius offers (my current favorite is their Chill channel, lots of groovy electronica). But what I found is that where I had the unit’s antenna positioned on the sill of a west-facing window certain times of the day the signal would get weak than others (like a cellphone, reception strength is indicated by one to three bars, with three being strongest. At best I’d pull in two bars no matter where I moved the antenna along the sill and it would often drop down to one before vanishing all together and giving me that dreaded” “acquiring signal” dead air that I just wouldn’t tolerate while driving.

Sure enough it got really bad yesterday, but instead of calling Sirius and telling them to cancel my service — again — I unwound some of the 20-something feet of antenna cable wrapped around the back of the boombox and just moved the thing around the corner to a south-facing window. Since then it’s been three bars solid all the time.

Loud and clear.