The day I got my own room still carries special meaning, and not simply because, at the age of 6, it meant that I was finally liberated from my brother. So that I’d have some company, my pop stuck a radio on my nightstand. Since those early days under the covers with Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders, I’ve listened to as much sports on the radio as possible.
I was among the first listeners of New York’s pioneering sports talk radio station, WFAN. When I lived in Australia, I would wake up at 4 a.m. to listen to the Cincinnati Bengals on the Internet. I still would rather listen to Monday Night Football than watch it. Unlike the sugar fix of television, radio nourishes the imagination and encourages the free flow of ideas, even if the ideas are usually articulated by agoraphobes and guys who couldn’t get a TV gig.
Now, with satellite radio, I can get static-free sports broadcasts from far-flung arenas in the car or at home—and with my brother nowhere nearby. Of the two major satellite radio providers, Sirius, which has a contract with the NFL, is probably the best option for hard-core sports fans. (XM’s contract with Major League Baseball doesn’t kick in until 2005.) Moreover, the eight Sirius sports channels boast more than just gamecasts; they’ve blessed the listening world with untold hours of sports talk radio.
Sirius’ NFL coverage gets a huge boost in the wide-receiver-related comedy department with the presence of flanker/narcissist Keyshawn Johnson, who hosts Taking It to the House every Thursday night at 8 on Channel 124. If you had tuned in a couple of weeks ago, you could’ve heard Key’s now-infamous attack on Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver for daring to say he had yelled at an assistant coach: “I almost wanted to get on a plane, find where she is at, and sit her down and spank her with a ruler really, really hard because it makes no sense.”
Listen as No. 19 dispenses pearls of wisdom on authority: “The coach yells at me, I just say ‘You got a glass of water?’ Negative words just don’t affect me.” And thrill as he unloads on mediocre quarterbacks: “I don’t want to be the Budweiser guy, but Key can’t throw the ball to himself!” Such high comedy is occasionally interrupted by an ineffectual “traffic director” named Steve Cohen. A typical moment: Cohen asks Johnson if Ronnie James Dio is one of his neighbors. Keyshawn, not a fan of heavy metal, swiftly changes the subject back to himself.
Along with Taking It to the House, Sirius has the home and road broadcasts of every game as part of its “NFL Sunday Drive.” (Unlike DirecTV, which charges subscribers an extra fee to get the NFL Sunday Ticket, the NFL package comes standard with the $12.95 monthly subscription fee.) The strange hometown touches you hear on the local feeds ensure that they’re at least more entertaining than Fox’s eighth-team broadcasters. During the 49ers-Panthers game, the action was interrupted so the play-by-play man could solemnly inform San Francisco commuters that Highway 580 was closed at Eden Canyon Road because of a police emergency. I was so busy conjuring possible causes for the roadblock that I barely registered the frantic Panthers comeback.
There’s also plenty of college football on Saturdays. Thankfully, Sirius had the luck or the foresight to include USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn among the 26 teams in its regular weekly lineup. (Among the teams they didn’t have the luck or foresight to exclude: Nebraska, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.) One major annoyance, though, is that the channels for all the sports broadcasts—college and pro football and the NBA—vary from day to day and week to week. As a Knicks fan in the South, I can now enjoy Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s inimitable style again, but not without checking the Sirius Web site to find out what frequency is carrying the game.
Perhaps the best—and most dangerous—feature is the Sirius unit’s rotating dial. When changing channels, the digital readout tells you the teams and the score. As long as you twirl quickly, it’s possible to listen to one channel while checking out 40 or 50 others. Bored with ESPN Radio? Flip past the three live hoops broadcasts and check who’s ahead. Even the time remaining in the game is displayed, so if you hone your skills it’s possible to glide past every game until it reaches crunch time. After two weeks, my attention span could be timed with a 24-second clock.
Once you flip past the games and the once-a-week Keyshawn, you’ll find that Sirius is filled with a whole lot of hot air. The shows on the 24/7/365 NFL channel don’t offer much for all but the most pathological, diseased NFL fans—it’s bad sports talk radio without any variety, or the NFL Network without the pretty pictures. Ex-jocks like John Riggins and Cris Carter don’t approach Keyshawn’s sublime cluelessness. And if you thought your local “Morning Zoo” guys were incomprehensible during morning drive time, try deciphering Dan Reeves’ sludgy Southern accent at that hour.
At least the NFL channel has some actual games to talk about. Sirius’ agreement to be the exclusive satellite radio provider of the NHL hasn’t worked out so well. “From the face-off to the final horn, we’ve got you covered,” announces the Sirius Web site. “Check back here next season for the latest schedules.” Fans who tune in to Channel 125 each afternoon hoping to get an “extra shot of hockey talk with NHL Live!”—or hoping to hear some really sad Canandians—instead must make do with shows like World of Boating and Oval Track, a NASCAR show hosted by Tushar “T-Daddy” Saxena. (Saxena also co-hosts Da Fellas every Friday night at 7 p.m.—”Four regular guys talking sports, sex, and other topics.”)
In the absence of the NHL, I’ve become addicted to Sirius’ more outdoorsy offerings. I can’t get enough of Out and About (Channel 122, Monday through Friday at 10 a.m.), which provides information about trekking tours and bowhunting (“in animal competitions, kills are worth more points than wounds”). I also love SCUBA Radio (Sunday at 7 p.m. on Channel 125), in which we’ll soon find out whether Greg the Divemaster passed his course and will become Greg the Instructor. At least I will—I get the strange idea that no one else is listening. The outdoor radio genre is somewhat contradictory—anyone really inclined to tune in will be too busy doing, you know, stuff outside. But that just makes a show like SCUBA Radio that much more intimate. It’s like I’m 6 again, under the covers with my own private radio.