Friday, April 8, 2011

Music for Motoring

Few things match the open road with the top down and the radio blasting in the front seat. The car and the AM radio is one of the most storied pairings of modern technology, forever immortalized in films such as "American Graffiti." If you didn't have a Thunderbird or at least even know Suzanne Summers you still wanted the experience of the wind in the hair and the Beach Boys singing the praises of California girls, right?

Not always. But the endless highways and ever changing scenery of America or any picturesque part of the world such as this pass in New Zealand pictured here have always been irresistible to millions of car and driving enthusiasts, myself included. I remember my first cross-country trip in a blue Pontiac my parents had given me during my sophomore year at college. I drove from Baltimore to Dallas by way of Atlanta which was two days of torture because the speed limit was still set at 55 MPH and this old Pontiac only had an AM radio. Between traffic, watching for cops and constantly fidgeting with the dial to find any listenable station I somehow survived the trip with an overnight stop in - wait for it - Meridian, Mississippi. Sigh.

Good music was not only a requirement to help pass the miles but that certain types of music had to match specific moods, the time of day and the surrounding scenery. Classical in the morning along the coast can be a good and relaxing thing but after dark in the desert following eight hours of driving, not so much. Still, the limited range of most stations required channel surfing roughly every two hours even for the more powerful signals. It was always amusing and frustrating to be tuned in to 103.7 and then without even changing the dial a country crooner would suddenly pop up, grieving the death of his dog over a longneck beer where Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes had been lamenting their women not knowing them by now!

XM Radio went a long way in guaranteeing never ending streams of clear sounding music that would play all the way across the country, a huge step-up from local programming and without commercials. Even for the most die-hard "Office Lite" fan, though, there has to be a change in flavor every now and then. Moreover, as much as I wanted steady listening I wasn't about to pay a subscription for something I used to and still could get for free. I could always bring my own.

My cars over the years have featured 8-tracks to cassettes and then CDs. Through the 90s and the turn of the century I would have a box of my favorite CDs in the passenger seat next to me and boast of my skill at changing out discs by feel without taking my eyes off the road. Still, this practice was dangerous and cumbersome, exposing myself and other motorists to accidents and my collection of music to theft. Something, anything, needed to come along that would make driving easier.

Like others with a huge collection of CDs I resisted the iPod as long as I could. I'm rarely one to jump on a fad right from the beginning, not buying my first iPod until 2008. Sifting through the accessories I found what I was looking for...a cassette adaptor that would let me enjoy my playlists through the car stereo. At last! Personally crafted music exactly suited to my tastes from my own collection and in the listening order I desire. Skipping a song or changing an entire playlist meant simply thumbing the flywheel. The "Shuffle" feature makes it even easier. Today the only reason not to have good music is simply whether or not I want to hear any at all.

Now if only I could afford a late model car that comes with a docking station so I could get rid of that high pitched feedback whining through the adaptor thingy!

Gotta go.


  1. I remember driving through that pass in New Zealand with you. I was in the midst of learning everything about the band Queen. Freddy Mercury, Geneva, and what was behind many of their hits. We also hit comedy listening to some of Richard Pryer's greatest hits. It made for a great drive through the south island of New Zealand.


  2. I do enjot listening to certain stations to see whats out there.Sure we all have our faves but you wont know whats out there untill you go beyond your musical confort zone!
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