Book Radio


When we bought our car in 2005 we had Sirius satellite radio installed. We bought the life-time membership which is a good thing, because I don’t think we ever would have kept paying the monthly fee after we had actually used the service.

We don’t spend enough time in the car (thankfully) to really make such a service worth it. Add on top of that the fact that the sound quality is really quite bad. Most of the talk stations sound like AM radio in a tin can. The music stations are better but not as good as broadcast FM stations. I know it is not the stereo system in the car or the speakers because regular FM radio and the iPod sound brilliant.

But then there is all the variety. John heads straight for the 70s or 80s whenever he has control of the dial. That can be fun, but I like to explore the less mainstream options like the CBC and the BBC. I find the CBC in particular to be quite fascinating. For some reason it seems so much more foreign to me than the BBC. Maybe because it is more Canada-focused whereas the BBC is more global in its approach.

Of course I do remember the halcyon days of living within reach of Minnesota Public Radio, which is, in my humble opinion, the best public radio network in the country without question. One station devoted entirely to classical music and one to news and information. Back in the 1990s, before satellite radio and the Internet, MPR would broadcast both the CBC every night and the BBC World Service. (I was in college at the time and didn’t have cable TV either.) To have these two exotic streams of information every night was a revelation and it made me feel so smart and cosmopolitan. And I think it really appealed to my nascent wanderlust inclinations. (I’m having a seriously groovy moment right now thinking of those days. Sigh.)

Oh  yeah, the title says Book Radio. Maybe I should get to that part.

The other day I was in the car trying to avoid listening to the news and not caring for the insipid, pedestrian, overplayed, classical music chestnut that was on broadcast radio, I flipped over to the Book channel on satellite. Despite the tinny audio quality I was immediately enchanted by the book. Which is odd for me because I don’t really do audio books. But there it was: English accent, check. Cosy theme, check. But then it suddenly stopped. I guess it was time for them to change programs but the abrupt stop was, well, abrupt. To make matters worse, they didn’t even follow it up with “You’ve been listening to…” Oh yes, they eventually did, but all they said was “You’ve been listening to the Penguin Book Hour” or something like that. Yes?! And what else?! What is the BOOK being read, you idiot?! And then they played all these loud, promos for other Sirius stations.

Okay, Thomas, don’t panic. Google will save the day, just pop in some of the key words that you heard in the text…

“club lunch”–so many guests arriving at various times that lunch would be serve yourself

…his inkwell was dry which made (some woman’s name) wonder what else in the house wasn’t up to scratch…

Cardiff Castle…


Oh god, not even Google is going to help this time. The main problem is I didn’t know how to spell Ulrich, wasn’t even sure I heard it correctly. But I was wrong, Google is amazing. With that little information it actually did find the right book. (I had, surprisingly, already found out the book name on Sirius’ website where they actually had a detailed program schedule. But I still did the Google test and was still surprised that it found the right info.)

Turns out the book was Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. I have never read any of his books and have been turned off by the double whammy or their immense size and the fact that they tend to be popular. But after hearing this bit of the book, I may actually pick this one up.

I used a foreign language
edition image because
all of the English ones
are ugly and are the type
of covers that make me
not want to red Follett.
I am a book snob,
no doubt about it.

So back to Book Radio. Like all things on Sirius it generally sucks. I think they have some original programming, but most of the schedule appears to be simply them playing existing audio books. No intelligent chatter, just canned announcements and promos between audio books that don’t really give much information. Plus the choice of books and flashy razzmatazz of the promos are meant to appeal to a reading public that is somewhat, shall we say, more mainstream than my own tastes.

Like cable TV, there is so much potential for cultural programming. But instead it gets dumbed down to be almost as banal as everything else. Too bad I can’t read and drive at the same time. Then again I have only listened to about 6 minutes of Book Radio, maybe I will give it another chance on the drive up to Maine this summer.

[Since writing this post we travelled down to Richmond, Virginia for a wedding and I listened to more Book Radio. My estimation of it improved slightly but only slightly. They played Gaskell’s North and South but then also seem to have a regular show on comic books. Not graphic novels mind you, but comic books.]

13 thoughts on “Book Radio

  1. Teresa June 26, 2011 / 7:53 am

    I'd much rather listen to Elizabeth Gaskell than Ken Follett. I've only read one Follett, the wildly popular Pillars of the Earth, and I thought it was terrible, just terrible. Maybe I would have liked it more on audio? For some reason, some forms of bad writing goes down easier when I'm listening to it.


  2. Darlene June 26, 2011 / 8:20 am

    My drive to work isn't a long one so I download book podcasts to my iPod for listening to when I walk Deacon. Know what you mean about the English accent, lovely.

    The 40s music station on Sirius is my favourite!


  3. C.B. James June 26, 2011 / 1:47 pm

    I've largely abandoned radio in favor of podcasts. I subscribe to several short story podcasts (I can't listen to an entire book on audio for some reason) as well as a few book related programs from the BBC and a few other odds and ends. I've go enough back log to keep me entertained on a cross country drive.


  4. Amy June 26, 2011 / 3:33 pm

    As a Minnesotan and MPR fan, I'm glad to see some good words about them! They have three stations now, though–besides classical and news, there's a third branch ( that plays indie and local (and, according to my music snob 18-year-old son, intolerably hipster) music. They also have a couple of internet-only channels, one with roots/Americana music, and one devoted to Minnesota music. Go MPR!


  5. Relish June 26, 2011 / 4:13 pm

    The BBC world service is just amazing I adore it. Are you into your podcasts? BBC Radio 4 do excellent book podcasts, as do the Guardian. The only way I can hack doing any exercise is listening to them at the same time!


  6. Thomas at My Porch June 26, 2011 / 8:44 pm

    Teresa: That is good to know before I attempt to read one of his. The short bit I heard on the radio appealed to my interests but who knows if it would go beyond that one scene.

    Darlene: I like to stay disconnected when I walk. I'm a luddite.

    CB: I tend to only use my iPod on the treadmill so I pretty much only listen to music. Spoken word is motivational enough to keep me exercising. However, our road trip to Maine would be great for podcasts. I need to go explore what's available.

    Amy: Yay Minnesota. I knew the current existed, but I think I was on my way out when it was on its way in.

    Relish: I have never really looked into those options before but now that I know about them I am quite excited at the prospects.


  7. music-books-steve June 26, 2011 / 11:28 pm

    Of course you aren't old enough to remember the REAL halcyon days of Minnesota Public Radio. When they first started they were a sophisticated alternative to a then-existing commercial classical service. They were then known as Minnesota Educational Radio, and to look at what they programmed is just eye-popping. Lots of serious, challenging contemporary music, full performances of the canonical repertoire (not one movement snippets), weekly special interest shows hosted by commentators who knew and cared about their topics, LOTS of recorded-live orchestral and chamber broadcasts. This period lasted until roughly the mid to late 70s. Oh, and Garrison Keillor hosted an absolutely inimitable daily morning show. All in all, the best radio I've ever heard. Alas, while MPR's news service remains excellent, the music service becomes more and more a posh background music purveyor. As you know from my FB feed, I now largely use European broadcasts (BBC, Radio France, and many others). The contemporary music, Q2, at WQXR online should not be underestimated either.


  8. Jill June 27, 2011 / 2:43 am

    I did enjoy Pillars of the Earth which I devoured over a few days in January. Not great writing but I found it a real page-turner. I have always wondered about Ken Follett and imagined his work to be potboilers but I have considered reading Fall of Giants on the basis of enjoying Pillars of the Earth and reading how and why he wrote it. I quite enjoyed watching the mini-series too.
    Public broadcasting stations should be made into World Heritage Sites to protect them. The only trouble with spoken book installments on radio is that the sessions are never long enough.


  9. Steph June 27, 2011 / 9:15 am

    The concept of Book Radio is certainly appealing, but I think it would be rather disappointing if all it did was broadcast audiobooks. What if you kept missing parts of one novel, or just caught the end of one? It seems like short stories would be better suited to something like radio where continuity is not necessarily key.


  10. pagesofjulia June 27, 2011 / 4:43 pm

    Interesting idea. I'd rather they play a whole book all the way through rather than leaving you hanging, but I don't know; regardless of how they work it, people will be coming in on the middle of it or going out before the end, thus frustrated. The obvious solution is to have an audiobook in the car that YOU control! (if you like that sort of thing, which of course you don't have to.)


  11. pagesofjulia June 27, 2011 / 4:44 pm

    Oh but more importantly, I meant to ask: how on earth do you audiobook-ize a comic book????


  12. Thomas at My Porch June 29, 2011 / 5:19 pm

    Steve: That is sad to hear about MPR classical programming. While I don't remember the early days of MPR I do remember the gold days when Minnesota Monthly was something I looked forward to in the mail. Are they still producing St. Paul Sunday Morning. I loved that one. And I love your recommendations on FB. They are a life saver when Radio 3 decides to spend the week focusing on Light orchestral music like they are this week.

    Jill: I have trouble with audio books, I get too distracted by everything else.

    Steph: I always seem to tune in for the last five minutes of something.

    Julia: The comic book show seemed to be chat and news about comic books rather than a reading.


  13. Karen K. June 30, 2011 / 5:08 pm

    Hilarious post! I love your book theft story; I've heard of airports with similar book stalls. And every library I've been to on a military base has a giveaway shelf too — cleaning out the bookshelves before the next move.

    I pretty much listen to audiobooks or NPR in the car. does your local station air Selected Shorts? They're short stories performed live in front of an audience, usually read by actors. in always forget to listen but some ofnthem are available on CD, and my library has some. I've heard great stories read by John Lithgow, Joe Morton, and Christina Pickles, who is just wonderful.


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