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They just can't get on the same wavelength

October 05, 2006|Howard Leff | Special to The Times

THANKS a lot, satellite radio, for pushing my otherwise harmonious relationship to the brink.

By now, as well all know, Sirius and/or XM Satellite Radio have virtually replaced AM, FM, iPods (very 2005), CDs (remember those) and, in certain hilly parts of Mount Washington, 8-track tapes as the automotive entertainment of choice. But instead of bringing couples together in melodic bliss, the sheer number of stations illustrate, in excruciating detail, how much their musical tastes differ.

Most people, of course, abandoned car radios years ago in favor of their own personal playlists. I tried this for a while, but quickly realized that despite having a hundred or so songs on my iPod, I soon grew tired of every single one. Let's face it: Living in Southern California gives us the right to get bored in a heartbeat. You could download the grooviest, hippest song in all of iTunes-land, but after several spins, you're off searching for the next grooviest, hippest song.

Enter satellite radio. Nearly 200 channels -- and countless songs on which you and your adorable but musically challenged car-mate can disagree. This might work if you're exactly the same age, but if you're even a few years apart (a lifetime, when it comes to pop music) -- get set for some static.

Let's say you're a mildly annoying mid-40s column writer dating a cute satellite radio subscriber in her 30s. Regular old-fashioned radio alone would pose no problem. That's because all reasonable people agree that it's more fun to repeatedly bang your forehead against the dashboard than to hear one more ad about mortgage refinance.

(Regular radio in L.A., from what I can tell, consists mainly of traffic reports, home loan commercials, the same 15 songs and a man named Frosty.)

Satellite radio's different. You can push buttons for months on end and never hear the same song twice. But even with dozens of music channels to choose from, we've already split them into two distinct categories:

1. The Dinosaur Channels I Like: These channels play recorded music from that dark, mysterious era before Boy George got famous and ruined rock music forever. Music from this period came on large black spinning plates known as albums. Some old codgers, after combing the crumbs out of their beards, would actually play these albums from beginning to end to get the full flavor of what the artist was trying to say.

Another person, however, has informed me that she finds these channels a real drag, and furthermore -- likes neither Emerson, Lake nor Palmer.

2. The New Wave Channels She Likes: These channels play a lot of Spandau Ballet and other groups that will bring nothing but heartache into your car trips, positively ruining whatever future the two of you once had together. While listening to these songs, she will speak glowingly to you about bands like Men Without Hats and the Human League until you want to pull the car over and cry into your Steely Dan T-shirt.

She will pledge her heart not to you, but also to these groups -- many of whom had a hit or two in 1983 and then vanished, only to reappear last Tuesday as a "Jeopardy!" clue. These songs, she'll sob, are the sounds of her girlhood, and by the way, she hates "that guy Jethro Tull" too.

We may or may not survive this. That's why I'm thinking we should immediately switch to the satellite radio comedy channels in an emergency effort to lighten things up. I absolutely love George Carlin's stuff.

Unfortunately, she finds him a bit dated.

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