Just me and my Inno get in my car and go!


WASHINGTON -- Paul Galvin got it right when he combined the "motor" with "ola" and began selling car radios with his brother Joe in 1930. Since the introduction of the Motorola model 5T71, it's been a match made if not in Heaven then Detroit.

I grew up with hot rods and rock 'n' roll. I spent my youth trying to turn junk into gold. Whenever I did get something running, we'd pile in, and as the song says, "with the radio blasting, go cruisin' just as fast as (we) can."

I'm still a gearhead. I still like to drive around and listen to music, but D.C. isn't really a car town. The hot rod ethic is here, but it's not entrenched in the culture. I guess that's to be expected from the place that promulgates auto safety and radio regulations.

My love of cars and music still unites, however, in the form of a really nice 1996 Chevy S10 and XM Radio. I've found a nice loop that includes a stretch of River Road, where my cruising instincts awaken. I go just fast enough to get some jollies but not endanger my license or the sheet metal. One day, when my son, West, and I made the loop, we spotted a Lamborghini Countach, a couple of Ferraris, a 1967 Corvette, a dozen 911s and a pink 1977 Cadillac Seville.

We were tuned in to XM. I seldom listen to traditional radio anymore. By the time my work day is done, I've had it with talk, and the music played by traditional broadcasters leaves something to be desired. I'm glad satellite radio is out there.

I hope it stays. Lately it's been a string of bad news as satellite radio hemorrhages red ink and XM battles the record labels. When the price of gas was well over three bucks a gallon, I was thinking this is all going to end. My kids won't know what it's like to drive around in a nice machine listening to their favorite tunes, just for fun. They may not have cars or satellite radio.

Since I first wrote about XM's portable device, a lawsuit has been filed attempting to get XM to pay royalties for the digital recordings customers like me make on our Innos. When I first got mine, I felt like I was ripping off the artists by recording the songs I liked. Lately I've begun to think differently. Since I only record a song as it plays, or an entire "show," and I don't "disaggregate" individual songs, I'm beginning to think that my guilt is misplaced.

I'm told I'm missing the point.

"That's just a small, tiny sliver of the whole universe," Ray Benson, of the neo-Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel, told me recently.

To Benson and others who make a living off their music, the battle with XM is a symbol of a much bigger problem. If XM can get out of paying the copyright holder for a "digital recording," then they worry that the same will happen to digital radio and "radio" streamed over the Internet. Benson was among those who fanned out over the Capitol grounds last week pleading the industry's case on Recording Arts Day on Capitol Hill.

The music industry felt so compelled to make that point that groups ranging from the American Federation of Musicians to the RIAA issued a statement calling on Congress to protect content on "new digital radio distribution services."

As for me, I just hope they make a deal so I can have fun, fun, fun until they take my XM away. Or gas hits $5 a gallon. Oh, yeah. If you're on River Road and you see an ersatz cowboy in a gold S10, smile and wave.