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,

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.


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 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.

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.