Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Welcome to the United States of Smile and Act Nice

So, once again... A couple of radio shock jocks got in trouble for being (*gasp*) shocking.

One of the key reasons I subscribed to XM was because I enjoyed the Opie & Anthony show when I was evaluating the free online trial. Now they're suspended for an entire month (and I think we all know by now how most radio "suspensions" end) because of something crude a homeless man said on their show about a few prominent public figures.


The entire point of XM is that it offers uncensored content. Not only is it a pay service, but disclaimers run regularly throughout the O&A show, saying that the channel was uncensored and that one could call customer service to have it blocked if desired. The consumer was left with the ultimate power: the ability to not listen to anything he or she doesn't want to. Apparently, that's not enough anymore.

Just minutes after the suspension announcement yesterday, I called and cancelled both of my XM receiver subscriptions. It's not even because I'm a die-hard Opie & Anthony fan -- I'm not. I actually prefer Ron & Fez (which happens to be on the same channel), and I rarely listen to O&A's show in its entirety anymore. It's because I'm tired of spineless companies getting on their knees and fellating any tiny special-interest group that claims "outrage" over some stupid radio bit.

Aside from the whole "crusading for free speech" thing, there's a more practical reason for being upset. Let's say Opie & Anthony screwed up. Let's say their bosses decided to punish them, as they have a right to do in a corporate atmosphere. So they're taken off the air for a month -- who really suffers? O&A have said several times that they have "walking away money", and that they do the show because they still enjoy it. A 30-day vacation, even without pay, isn't really going to hurt them much, especially in an environment where ratings mean absolutely nothing. Who's being punished, then? Oh, that's right: the paying customers, many of whom explicitly signed up for XM because that's the service O&A are on.

When CBS killed Imus and JV & Elvis, there wasn't much I could do other than write a letter. I don't have an Arbitron book, and I don't even live in one of their radio markets. With XM, it's different. Fans of free speech and uncensored content have a voice, and it starts and ends with the wallet. The company's poor decision has directly cost them money, and by all accounts, it's costing them a LOT of money.

Since the suspension, thousands of people have called to cancel their subscriptions. As of this afternoon, over a day since the announcement, hold times on XM's customer service lines are well over an hour. Their phone system has crashed several times, their computer system went down last night, and CSR's are now being instructed to offer up to five months of free service to keep people from cancelling.

The backlash is being felt. Let's hope it sets a precedent.


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