Tuesday, October 21, 2008

XM R. I. P.

XM Satellite Radio is scheduled to pass away on or about November 15th. Born September 25, 2001, XM lived for seven good years and was loved by many. Now, the radio service that changed our way of listening and introduced us to many new musicians and talk personalities is about to be swallowed by Sirius the whale. On the brink of its own extinction, Sirius revived itself in 2006 becoming a one trick pony by signing shock jock Howard Stern. This once-meek satellite service is now inheriting the earth.

As the consolidation of these two recently-merged companies continues, programming will become more and more a simulcast than two different distinct flavors. Many XM employees have already been dismissed from their headquarters based in Washington, D.C. Most severely hit were air personalities and support staff for XM’s dozens of original music channels. Nearly all of these innovative XM channels are about to be replaced by bland Sirius equivalents produced from New York City.

I mourn this loss. XM Radio was revolutionary in presenting a wide and vast variety of music from nearly every conceivable genre. Where else could you hear eclectic channels filled with movie music, Broadway tunes, bluegrass, blues, Mexican tunes or hits from the 1940s? XM introduced me to many, many new artists and I began to love radio again. I had not enjoyed a renaissance like this since the advent of free-form FM radio in the late 60s.

XM’s glory days are sadly about to end. If predictions prove true, November 15th will be the day the XM music died. The switch will be thrown and the Sirius channels will reign. The past seven years will always be remembered fondly. XMs music was hosted by many, many knowledgeable and enthusiastic expert hosts who really had passion for their music. Listeners developed strong relationships with all the XM presenters who gladly served as great teachers and entertainers to us all. Goodbye, my friends, and thanks for some great times!

Sirius Satellite Radio, chaired by media mogul Mel Karmazin, has always been known to emulate “real” (terrestrial) radio and its narrow playlists. XM had a similar series of monotonous channels that were managed by another media monster, Clear Channel, but those in the know avoided them at all costs. I will try to keep an open mind and sample the Sirius offerings in the weeks and months to come. Only time will tell if the new Sirius programming will grow or wilt.

The consolidation of XM and Sirius certainly will not increase their overall popularity. There is little incentive to invest in equipment and subscriptions to a medium that might soon be defunct or obsolete. America’s favorite source for tunes, Apple’s iPod, will continue to be a strong and bold distribution tool for the musicians. Word-of-mouth can be a powerful force! Eventually, as many have predicted, satellite radio may become a partially-free nationwide medium just to survive financially.

In the future, satrad’s biggest competition may be the Internet offering thousands and thousands of worldwide broadcasters vying for our attention. This system of distribution is just about to flower and bloom. My only wish is that music and performance royalty regulations will not squelch the homebrew feel of many of today’s Internet micro-broadcasters producing programs in basements nationwide. Public access radio might finally get its day in the sun, but expect heavy protest from the entrenched media establishment. Independent Internet radio is the strongest hope for America’s music lovers and for those who seek novel and interesting talk programming. Rest in peace XM. Our years together will never be forgotten.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mice !

My car smelled like hay, but this was not surprising. I live in farm country and the fragrance of a barnyard is commonplace. Where did the strong hay smell come from? Did I run over horse droppings? Did I pick up something that stuck to the undercarriage of my car? What could it be?

Clues were forthcoming. The first hint was quite curious. The grated air vent, at the bottom of the windshield, suddenly was missing a few little pieces plastic here and there. Were they gnawed away? One afternoon, a burst of fine pieces of foam rubber flew out of the blower fan like confetti on New Years’ Eve. The mystery had only just begun.

In time, I became very used to the hay smell. It slowly began to weaken. Maybe this olfactory oddity was coming to an end? The smell changed for the worse. It began to smell…reeky. What started as a reminder of stinky sneakers turned, day by day, to increasing misery. One morning, I started the car and death filled the air literally. Something had passed away and it was now decomposing.

The reek was loud and unbearable. I had to dismantle the air system as soon a possible and discover what was going on. One of the places I work at had both a large and small shop vacuum cleaner. I first opened the large air filter compartment tucked under the hood. There could be no doubt a nest had been made! Mice are good at four things: gathering, eating, nesting and making a fecal mess. My car’s new residents were skilled in every way!

The air filter had become only part of their nest. They collected hay, shreddings of cloth and wool, pieces of leaves and sticks and everything else they could find to create a fluffy mess (and good insulator.) Several handfuls were pulled out before I could vacuum it out. But wait…there was more! I opened the vent cowl right under the windshield. Another nest was found, but no mice! More cleaning but no carcass!

Finally, I went to the cabin air filter behind the glove compartment. The second I opened the black slotted door I saw the filter edge, once white, was now a grayish black. I pulled it out slowly and found a dirge of mice droppings and odiferous horror along with a small mouse now demonstrating rigor mortis. Satisfied with my findings, I drove off to my other office stopping to get a new air and cabin filter on the way.

Disappointment took only seconds! There was still something dead in the car. The only place I had not cleaned was the fan mechanism itself. I stuck my hand into it and felt tons of spinners from a maple tree. Then, eek! I felt something small, furry and still a little wet. It was mouse two (the sequel.) I borrowed another shop vac, with a very narrow hose and managed to snake it into the fan housing to clean it out. I heard the spinners get sucked into the vacuum. Twick-twack, twick-twack and then a big flump! Mouse two had been sucked away. I continued to vacuum until the last spinner was gone. Hopefully, this was the end!

Ninety-five percent of the stench was now gone, but odeur de souris still filled the air. It had become a combination of foul aged dust, familiar to anyone who has ever cleaned a heating duct, combined with the memory of decomposed vermin. Garaged, with windows wide open, I dream of the day the smell will cease. Sorry, no pungent green cardboard Christmas trees for me! Patience is a virtue and I will clean and polish until I find satisfaction. Oh, mon Dieu! What I would do for a breath of fresh air!

Friday, October 3, 2008


Here is everything you need to know about the DTV transition in one concise article:

On Tuesday, February 17, 2009, analog TV broadcasts will go off the air. If you use an antenna to receive TV, and your set does not have a digital tuner, you will need to either buy a new digital TV set or buy a converter to allow your old TV to receive digital broadcasts.

It's hard to buy a new TV that does not have a digital tuner. Highly recommended is the Sony Bravia line. If you need a converter, the Zenith DTT900 is the model to get. It is also marketed by Best Buy as the Insignia NS-DXA1. The federal government is providing $40 discount coupons to partially underwrite converter purchases. Call 1-888-DTV-2009 to apply. Converters typically cost about $60.

Hook-up of converter boxes is easy. The antenna cable connects to the box. Connect a cable from the converter to your TV and watch DTV on channel 3. The box also has analog video and audio outputs. Use RCA type jumper cables to connect to your VCR or directly to your TV. The Zenith has an interactive on-screen guide that will get you going fast.

Before you act, see if you can receive digital over-the-air TV. Go to: http://www.tvfool.com. Mid-page, go to 'start here.' Enter your exact address and how high your antenna might be (figure ten feet per floor.)
When your results pop up, click on 'Post-Transition Only Digital.'
Don't get dazzled by all the data. The only two columns that matter are the station's call letters on the far left and the column that says Signal RX (dbm). If the signal number is lower than - 70 (i.e. -57,) it will be fairly easy to bring in the station. The range between - 70 and - 80 means reception is still pretty probable. Between - 80 and -100 will require an outdoor antenna and preamp. Beyond that requires luck, skill, the correct weather and a lack of leaves on your trees! Height is everything - the higher up your antenna is, the more channels you will receive.

If you need an outdoor antenna, buy a 4-bay or 8-bay bow-tie antenna. These antennas work very well between channels 7 and channel 60 where all the new DTV broadcasts will be found. They have very low wind resistance and are light and easy to mount. Bow-tie antennas also have a broader pick-up 'nose' than long Yagis and react better to signal fading. Highly recommended are the Channel Master 4221A (4-bay) and 4228A (8-bay.) The 4-bay version should be adequate if you are inside the city limits. Please use an antenna pre-amp (Channel Master CM-3039) with these antennas to boost the signal to your set.

After you become familiar with your new TV or converter box, it is essential that you learn how to scan for new channels. The Zenith/Insignia box calls this feature 'EZ Add.' (see picture above) On transition day, February 17, 2009, many stations will be changing from temporary digital broadcast channels to new permanent ones. You will have to rescan your set or converter to continue to see these channels. On the Zenith converter's remote, press 'menu,' (you'll be in 'setup',) arrow right and down one to 'EZ Add' and arrow right or bulls-eye to start. After the scan is done, press 'menu' twice to end.

Following transition day, channel allocations will change forever.
Channel 2 will be on 33, channel 4 on 28, channel 5 on 44 and channel 9 will be on 38. Channels 7, 11 and 13 will all be using their current analog channels to broadcast digitally. In the end, these channel frequency swaps don't really matter. Channel 2 will still show up on your converter or new TV as channel 2-1 even though it is actually on Channel 33. Digital virtual channel numbers often don't match the actual TV channel they are on. Television broadcasters will continue to use their old analog channel names as a convenience to their viewers. A new 'EZ Add' scan is needed to allow your receiver to re-learn where your local channels have moved to.

What should you expect to see? Digital TV is interesting. You'll never see interference, 'ghosts' or 'snow.' You'll see a perfect picture or nothing at all. Broadcasters often multicast with their new digital signals sending out more than one channel at a time. You are bound to enjoy new extra 'virtual' channels. Both NBC (4-2) and ABC (7-3) run full-time weather channels for your convenience. ABC repeats its evening newscasts during prime time on another virtual channel 7-2. Channel 11 broadcasts a Latino channel, LATV, on virtual channel 11-2. PBS stations provide three or more channels of programming instead of just one analog channel. Living 50 miles from the city, I can see about 60 digital channels over-the-air with just an antenna!

Get ready for great change. Remember that all your little portable TVs, the one that is not hooked up to cable in the second bedroom and the TV set at your Mom's house using an antenna will stop working. You'll only see snow! Keep in mind that your TV Sound radios, like the Radio Shack Portavision series, will also stop working. They won't pick up digital signals either! Be prepared and act now!

If you have any questions, please e-mail me at karlzuk@hotmail.com. I'll be glad to take your questions. Good luck!