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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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by Charlie Summers, © 2005

(From Radio Recall, August 2005)

I love my XM Radio! The news and current affairs programming is about the most complete you’ll find in one place, including The Bob Edwards Show. The depth and breadth of music is really amazing: I swear somewhere on there you could hear Thai music running. But when it comes to Old-Time Radio, it falls apart.

Of course, blame is shared by the XM people who, since they know nothing about OTR, contracted with MediaBay, another company that doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about OTR either. I’ve complained before about When Radio Was, but the Radio Classics division of Radio Spirits/ MediaBay, which now programs all the OTR channels for both XM and Sirius, finds an even deeper low than its commercial-station sibling.

So what are the problems with MediaBay’s programming? For starters, the commercials are worse than anything you’d hear on AM radio, mostly promoting Radio Spirits closeouts… er… I mean… special deals, but also promoting anything else they think they can sell, like financial weeklies and golf magazines. Of course, like When Radio Was, they run their shows on the half-hour, so any original commercials and some programming as well, needs to be hacked out to make room for these commercials.

There’s a “host” with a voice for newspaper who clearly doesn’t know jack about OTR, occasionally interrupting the original commercials with the sparsest information possible about the shows (I was tempted to check the show dates he gave, assuming from his unprofessional announcing skills that they’d likely be wrong, but I didn’t waste my time). Granted, ever since MediaBay moved Radio Spirits from Chicago to New Jersey they haven’t found anyone on-staff who knows anything at all about OTR (check their financials…they don’t know much about selling any kinds of spoken recordings, either), but this is just embarrassing.

The sound quality is surprisingly poor, considering how Radio Spirits keeps claiming how great a job they do cleaning the sound First Generation Radio Archives does a much better job, and frankly I routinely receive shows from high-end collectors who deliver substantially better sound than anything I’ve heard from First Generation - heck, I have MP3s that sound better than some of Radio Spirits’ "restorations."

I realize that I am not the target market for Radio Classics…that channel is targeted to people who don’t really know any better. But a serious collector wouldn’t give this channel more than five-minutes worth of listening…and all collectors of OTR should at least aspire to be a serious collector.

If you’re looking for good quality complete-as-aired programming with a knowledgeable host airing interesting Old-Time Radio, I’d suggest Ed Walker’s The Big Broadcast every Sunday night, with on-demand complete streaming shows are available for the week after broadcast in Real Audio format at www.wamu.org. Ed has forgotten more about OTR than anyone currently on-staff at MediaBay ever knew.

But don’t look on either XM’s or Sirius’ Radio Classics channels… this is strictly for those who don’t care about quality OTR.

Speaking of dumbing things down, MediaBay has removed their writer (Anthony Tollin) for When Radio Was, and replaced him with… someone on-staff in New Jersey. As many of you already know, Mr. Tollin is one of the foremost radio historians, and the undisputed expert on all things Shadow. So for those few people who are still listening to When Radio Was, your last reason is gone - plan on hearing Stan Freberg sound like he’s suddenly received a lobotomy. Now not only will there be hacked-up programs, there will be hackneyed descriptions to go with ‘em.

Charlie Summers is a longtime radio program collector, who is fortunate enough to be charged with maintaining the server for the Internet OTR Digest (www.otrdigest.com) and who spouts off on anything that strikes his fancy at his Nostalgic Rumblings blog (blogs.oldradio.net). He’s convinced that his most important role is being Katie's Dad.