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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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There’s an interesting blurb over at techdirt talking about the battle between NPR and FM Modulators. For a while, I used a satellite radio with a built in FM modulator for a while. The little Sirius Sportster radio had some pretty cool features: A rewind/pause buffer, built-in FM modulation, you get the idea. It got me to love Sirius, but I threw it out in the end because its flaky antenna mount in the cradle would far too often fail to connect without bludgeoning the thing to death.

That said, even when everything was working perfectly, I had a hell of a time using the FM modulator in anything resembling a densely populated area — basically anywhere I drive these days. Northern Maine was pretty trivial by comparison. Fairfield County, NY-metro, New Jersey, Philly … it was a constant battle of fighting with the dial.

The other side of the coin is that when I did just want to listen to a local NPR station (I’m supposedly in range of about a half dozen on FM), more often than not I’d get too much interference, because on a busy road, when nearly every usable FM band is taken up by an active transmitter, you’re guaranteed that some guy in his SUV next to you is using that frequency to transmit.

I know what you’re thinking: Get to the point.

So my thought is that I sympathize with NPR. FM modulators sound great in theory, but in practice they’re a real pain to use, and they inconvenience other people trying to listen to the radio or use their own FM modulator. While I don’t think we’re really in fear of people using their iTrip to set up pirate radio stations, I think the interference that is out there is already pretty troublesome.

Having myself switched to a hard-wire satellite radio tuner and matched head unit, I no longer have to worry about such issues personally, but I still wish things worked a bit better. The downside of Sirius right now is that it offers NPR Talk and NPR Now, which is great unless you’ve heard the one-hour news loop or the four-hour story loop already on your 16-hour drive. This is where local NPR stations are a lot more interesting, because you get some variety. As sad as it is, I’d kill to get Michigan Public Radio from Ann Arbor on NPR, because it was always interesting. I fell in love with Sirius because it provided ubiquitous access to NPR, certainly not for its rubbish audio quality. I’m half curious to see how HD radio turns out, but that would require yet another hardware tuner for my head unit, and probably another subscription fee.

So, what’s the point of all this rambling? There really isn’t one, beyond … death to FM modulators!