A small, light portable radio-type gadget with earbuds

In Walt Mossberg's "Mossberg's Mailbox" column on August 14th in the Wall Street Journal, a reader asks:

Q. I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions of a small, light portable radio-type gadget with earbuds that would be good for me while I do athletic activities like riding my bike. I want something that will give me different pre-programmed selections of music, not something that I have to load with music (I don't remember names of songs). I love my Sirius satellite radio in my car.

To his credit, Walt recommended - among other things - the Zune, which as he pointed out, has an FM Radio built in. Kudos, Walt!

The scary thing is that the guy was asking for, well, a RADIO! But, we aren't providing the content that he can live with over-the-air. At least, he doesn't think so. The satellite subscription model with no commercials seems to be the draw for him, but I am betting that it's really just better programming. Truly, the advent of new distribution methods for radio isn't the reason for this attitude - it exposes it so that we can see it clearly.

Of course, many of us knew this back in the '70s, when we were involved with putting alternative stations (progressive rock, NPR, Pacifica, WMNF come to mind) on the air. The growth of FM in the late 60s and 70s fueled the exposure of AM to alternatives then much as satellite and audio-over-ip is exposing traditional FM and AM today.

So - focusing on content - I was driving to a meeting the other day and heard an 9 minute interview on a local music-driven alternative station. It was with an artist who, when I reviewed the playlist of the station, seemed to be totally out of their range; moreover, it ended badly, with the artist telling the talent that "...I don't need you guys, you're bloodsuckers on my art." (paraphrased) Wisely, the talent terminated the interview at that point. But, then, the morning team spent another 10 minutes talking about the interview and taking calls from listeners about it. If it wasn't for the fact that I was listening to a train-wreck in process and was interested from a professional point of view, I would have punched the button in the first three minutes of this whole episode. I can't wait to see the PPM results for this station on this particular day and time. It's one thing to be edgy and exciting; it's another to spend almost 20 minutes on what should have been a throw-away interview.

But - my point is that this is exactly the kind of thing that is making guys like the one who wrote in to Mossberg think of anything else first and "regular radio" last.