radio to the rescue

The studios must bank on it – if you’re a fan of a franchise, you forgive…a lot.

So I’ll forgive the shortcomings of “Star Trek: Beyond” for two, maybe three reasons.

Reason one, I’m a fan of Star Trek. Not a serious fan, not an obsessive fan, not even a want to talk about it much fan, but I grew up in the heroic era of space travel, which coincided with the original series. I know better, but have never fully outgrown the awe and optimism of the time.

Reason two, it’s not that bad. You can read the reviews, and they’re right. The movie is not very coherent; plot points are left unpointed, things don’t make sense even within the context of the movie. And as always, CGI makes everything too big, too impossible, even allowing for healthy suspension of disbelief. But sometimes it works, as in the latest destruction of the Enterprise, and there is heart to the movie, in the same way there is heart running through all the franchise. Star Trek is thick in its own mythology; at one point, Zachary Quinto’s Spock is looking through the belongings of the original Leonard Nimoy Spock and finds a photo of Spock with Kirk, McCoy, Mr. Scott, the rest. It’s a still from one of the late movies featuring the original cast and it’s unexpectedly poignant – I had a catch in my throat for the passage of time, for the characters and for the actors who played them.

Reason 3, they use radio to beat the bad guys. No, it makes no sense, but when they have to disrupt the swarm of bad guy ships from destroying the Federation space station, they do it by broadcasting the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” It’s as sensible a call as the guy strapped to the top of the truck, shredding, in the last Mad Max movie. It’s apparently what you do when making a blockbuster, and you can’t ladle on any more CGI. You rock out. I think they’re trying to summon the release, the rush that’s part of the mythology of rock music. It strikes me as a cheat, as a way too obvious way out, but whatever. It’s radio. Just go with it.

getting an earful

I have tinnitus, and am in the middle of an especially annoying bout of it right now. Not that it ever goes away, but there are fairly long periods when I don’t notice it so much.

Right now, I notice it.

Also, my hearing seems to be getting a bit worse. I lost the top 25 percent of frequencies over the last decade – I’m talking the hypothetical top 25, including the range most people don’t hear well – but now the loss seems to be creeping down into the area where it counts.

Coincidentally, I just got stereo equipment that has changed my listening life.

Our daughter bought me a set of Sonos Play:1 speakers for my 60th birthday. The Play:1 is every bit as good as people say it is; the sound is superb (a reviewer who measured them concluded the output was ‘extremely flat’; he said it’s what you might find in a $3,000 pair of tower speakers), connectivity is great (they don’t struggle to find and keep a wifi connection, unlike every other streaming audio device I’ve owned) and the app does a seamless job of integrating various music sources.

I spend my time in Pandora, various radio stations found through Tune-In, and, yes, Spotify. I have a problem with on-demand streaming services; they don’t pay enough to sustain the music industry, and especially the interesting, low sales artists I spend most of my time listening to. (By definition, that takes in all of jazz and classical.) But I have bought and bought and bought over the years, and to an extent I feel like I’ve done my part.

Plus, a fair and increasing amount of my listening is to old music, as in music recorded decades ago and reissued now. I’m mildly less conflicted about getting that from Spotify or one of the other streaming services, because it feels less like I’m taking something away from a living artist.

Also, the quality of the stream, 320 kbps mp3, sounds fine to me. I have been firmly in the CD/lossless file camp, and if I’m buying, that’s still what I’ll purchase but…I’m not sure it really matters to my ears at this point. Right now, for instance, I’m listening to some early 50s mono recordings of Haydn string quartets at less than 320 k, (I’m streaming WFMT out of Chicago, and the weekly “Collector’s Corner” show) and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

(Aside: I bought a box of all the Haydn quartets a few years back, the ones by the Angeles String Quartet, but don’t play them much. The performances are fine, but the sound doesn’t move me – and if you read the reviews on Amazon, you’ll see others noting the same thing. It’s like I’m too far away from the musicians or something. The recordings I’m hearing tonight were mic’d much “closer,”  and the music comes alive, despite their age and being in mono.)

One other thing about Sonos; while there is a generous selection of music services, a few things I like (ClassicalRadio, SomaFM) were missing. No problem; I was able to very easily add channels from both through Tune In. It’s maybe a hair less convenient than each having its own app, but it works and works well.

So how much do I like the Play:1s? Well, in the last 10 days, I’ve played exactly one CD at home. I’m not trying to prove a point; it’s just that I haven’t felt the want, or that I needed to hear something I couldn’t. I’ve added one more Play:1 on my own dime at my office, where it’s set on low murmur for pubic radio/news/talk all day. My office is a giant Faraday cage so regular radio is a non-starter. I love radio in its old-fashioned thing-you-get-with-an-antenna form, but this is radio as well, and quite wonderful, I think.

 

 

on not writing

There is a sad reflex among blogs as they die in which the author, not having posted for three or six months, makes some apologetic noises and promises to do better.

That’s usually followed by an entry or two, then a longer, more final silence.

From what I’ve seen, many of these blogs had pretty good runs before they hit the skids; there’s usually a year or two of steady work, followed by some months of sporadic posting, followed by the above. Which is to say, they aren’t examples of failure to launch – the people who put up six entries and run out of things to say don’t generally bother to apologize – and blogs that gets past year two or three are apt to keep going.

So this is not that note, but writing here has been oddly difficult for the last several months. That’s not a lack of interest in the world; if anything, I’ve read more – and more deeply – lately. The Soviet Union has caught my attention, as has, belatedly, the Iraq war. I’m poking at climate change, though for all that’s written I have yet to find a book that works for me. And I’m drawn as always to the history of technology.

But writing is another matter; I follow the race for President closely but there is so much written about it every day – and then so much written about what’s written and so much written about that, a pile-up of self-referential stuff – I have nothing new to add. Trump and Clinton exhaust me, though like everyone else, I can’t look away.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cell phones and writing about the minutiae of the ones I use, and that’s fine – I think the FM radio business is a real issue – but the topic has its limits. I have not noted (until now) that the Moto E I enjoy so thoroughly died an unceremonious death 10 days back. For no particular reason, the speaker made a loud buzzing noise and quit. It’s at Motorola for repair/replacement now. Motorola will likely just send me a new one, and then I’ll have to beg Verizon to waive $30 in activation fees. It’s a hassle, but I don’t think it means anything; there’s no larger lesson to be extracted from it, not even “It’s a $29 phone.”

In honor of my 60th birthday, our daughter delivered a set of Sonos Play:1 speakers to me, which I have now set up as a stereo pair in the family room. For the moment, they’re on top of my regular stereo, and I’m not sure how to handle my very, very large collection of CDs, but I can see the day when I get rid of most of the stuff under the TV and just go with the paired Sonos for listening. They’re that good. I got a three month trial to Spotify, and am impressed by the depth and breadth of the thing. But I think it’s a terrible deal for musicians, and don’t know how to resolve that.

So, writing. If I had to describe what stops me before I start it would be – I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. The cure for me traditionally has been to get very, very interested in something or things outside of my own head, and get the itch to talk about it. (Hence the title of this blog.)  My current reading gets me part way, but only part way, there. I may read two or three more books about the Cold War or the run up to World War II and be well satisfied, but have nothing to add.

Meantime, I fashion little bursts of words and am going on the assumption that at some point the wheel turns, the gears click and there’s more where this came from. I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s “View From The Cheap Seats,” which is a collection of non-fiction, much of it about writing and writers, and it helps. Gaiman reminds me this is work, and that the simple truth, as always, is that writers…write. (Except Douglas Adams, but that’s a different story.)

 

lost in space

Saw “Independence Day: Resurgence” on its opening weekend. It’s not very good, but then neither was the original, and I’ve watched it at least a dozen times over the years. This was more of the same, and I think the critics are maybe being too hard on the new movie – yes, if it’s possible for an already ridiculous movie to get even more CGI-ed ridiculous (an alien ship 3000 miles wide?) this certainly qualifies. But it’s basically the original movie told all over again, and that’s fine.

One thing: the real science fiction of “Resurgence” isn’t the weapons or the alien ships or the giant alien queen. The real science fiction is that in the 2016 of “Resurgence,” the world is at peace. There are, the President says early on, no more wars and the planet is united. Back in this world, it feels very much like an old and faded dream.

Reading and listening:

Finished “Eccentric Orbits,” a captivating new book on a topic I knew nothing about – the strange history of the Iridium satellite phone.  (I think a couple of Iridiums make cameo appearances in “Resurgence.”) Because I cared nothing about cell phones for the longest time, I missed some big stories. This is one of them.

Cued up: “The Network.” A book about David Sarnoff and Edwin Armstrong and the early crushing of FM by Sarnoff’s RCA. I’ve known for a long time that Sarnoff tried to kill FM, which he saw as a risk to his AM radio business. This new book is a deep dive on the subject.

Also, Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial.” I’m belatedly reading some history of the Iraq War. Even though Woodward gets criticized for being a captive of the insider accounts he writes, he still gets an enormous amount on the record that might otherwise stay submerged. 10 years down the road, it’s easier to see just how good a piece of reporting this book was.

Cued up: George Packer’s “The Assassin’s Gate.” I got to both the Woodward and the Packer by way of John Gray’s “Black Mass.” Gray pretty much defines the idea of a sobering read.

Listening: I traded in a bunch of box sets I never listen to and ended up with a few hundred dollars credit at the record store in Syracuse. I made a dent in it this weekend: Bill Evans, “Some Other Time”; Allen Toussaint, “American Tunes”:  Giles Peterson/Sun Ra, “To Those of Earth & Other Worlds”; Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, “Multishow Live.” I listened to half of the Evans, half of the Veloso and the Toussaint so far. Money well spent.

 

no, microsoft, no

Somehow I missed the dismal news that Microsoft has axed its FM radio app from Windows 10 Mobile.

A Microsoft spokesman told Radio World, “Due to decreased usage, FM Radio was removed in a recent Windows 10 Mobile build released to Windows Insiders, and will likely be removed for general customers in a future update.”

The good news, such as it is, is that the FM chip will remain activated in Windows phones. That means third party FM tuner apps will continue to work. The rest is bad news. Here’s why:

The Windows phone platform failed. It has less than five percent of smartphone users worldwide, and no matter what Microsoft has tried that number doesn’t improve. In fact, in the U.S. it’s gone backwards. However, I’d argue that people who follow smartphone development continue to pay disproportionate attention to Windows phones, and as long as FM was part of the base operating system,  there was a small, persistent reminder that FM is important to some people and should be considered for other more popular (i.e. Android and iOS) platforms.

More to the point, the FM tuner was a place for radioheads like me to rally, something we could point to, to show having “real” radio in a cellphone is a desirable feature. My guess is Microsoft’s announcement will undermine efforts like the Free Radio on My Phone campaign and make it easier for the holdout carrier, Verizon, to continue dragging its feet when it comes to activating the FM chip in Android phones.

I went to great lengths to get an Android phone (the only one Verizon offers) with FM radio; I use it at least three or four times a week for at least half an hour at a time, and often more. Yes, it competes for my attention with audiobooks, podcasts and music I’ve downloaded. But the point is, it is competing – I still choose to use regular, broadcast radio for a fair amount of my listening.

And what is a choice for me is a necessity elsewhere. A comment on an mspoweruser  article about the removal:

I know it’s difficult for some people in the western hemisphere and specifically the U.S. to understand but having an fm radio receiver is vital in some parts of the world or a necessity. How do you access now your local radio station in a rural or remote location.. Not only that you don’t use data, but you have radio coverage even in some places where cellular reception is bad. For India and even certain parts of Europe this is a bad move.

Let me point out that’s not the same as the marginal “in an emergency, access to radio could save your life” argument used sometimes to bolster the case for activating the FM chip. That argument says ‘Here’s an edge case, one for which we have no actual real world examples but which sounds good.’ The argument above says ‘Radio is part of every day life in most of the world. Anything you can do to delivery it cheaply and cheerfully is good.’

Mind you, I think having the radio chip turned on would be good in an emergency, but…that’s not enough.

And I would be remiss not to spread much of the blame on the radio industry itself; radio is seen as less essential on phones because it is, well, less essential. You take 20-30 years of reducing formats to the lowest common denominator, dumping most or all local programming, turning the commercial load up to 11 and no wonder so many people lost interest, or never got it in the first place.

 

buy the piano player a drink

Have you heard the new Bill Charlap album, “Notes From New York”? You should. Charlap is my favorite jazz piano player working today – and the new album is very, very good.

My guess is a lot of people come to Charlap expecting this generation’s Oscar Peterson or Erroll Garner, someone whose music is easy going down, but is, well, a little trapped in amber.  He’s so much more than that. Just one example, the opener, “I’ll Remember April,” bolts from the theme into something that manages to be skittering, Monk-like  before finding its way home.  His is a fine and joyous musical intelligence.

All that for $10.76 from Amazon, shipped to my doorstep, with the mp3 version thrown in as part of the deal. Truth is, I would rather have skipped the CD entirely if I could have spent the same $10 or $11 and been able to download the album in FLAC or ALAC, the two lossless formats used by people like me, who care about such things. But I couldn’t, so buying the CD and ripping it will be the next best thing. Meantime, the mp3 will tide me over.

Of course, I could have simply streamed the album from Apple Music, of which I have a three month trial. My guess is Spotify and Google Play and whatever Microsoft calls their music service now have it as well. And I’d further guess that Bill Charlap, who is among the relatively few jazz artists you can call successful, probably can’t buy a new suit with what he makes off streaming. I could be wrong, but I doubt it, because I have a child in the music business, one whose band’s album was a modest success a year or so back. My child told me about what streaming paid, and the word “paid” is only used because no one has come up with a substitute that accurately describes the relationship between the streaming services and the artist.

Bandcamp, the online clearinghouse for musicians who want to sell their own music as downloads or CDs or vinyl, puts it this way in an excellent new blog post:

Subscription-based music streaming,* on the other hand, has yet to prove itself to be a viable model, even after hundreds of millions of investment dollars raised and spent.

I agree with that, excepting the possibility that it’s a “viable model” if you’re Apple and being big in streaming is vital to the larger business of the company, selling hardware. One thing’s for sure: it’s not viable for anyone trying to make a living playing music. The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer, in which the cocaine-fueled excesses of the 70s and 80s couldn’t happen again, but in which more people would be able to put their music out and get paid. There was talk of a new middle class of independent musicians.

Instead, a relative handful of people – and, emphatically, the corporations close to the servers, the Googles, The Amazons – do very well. Everyone else, not so much.

Which is why I take Bandcamp’s governing philosophy so seriously:

As long as there are fans who care about the welfare of their favorite artists and want to help them keep making music, we will continue to provide that direct connection. And as long as there are fans who want to own, not rent, their music, that is a service we will continue to provide, and that is a model whose benefits we will continue to champion.

(Read the whole thing here.)

So when my Apple Music tryout expires, I won’t be renewing. Have barely used it anyway. I will keep two streaming services that are fundamentally different from what the Amazons, the Apples, the Googles have to offer – Pandora and ClassicalRadio. Both services are more radio-like than they are “on demand,” meaning I can hear lots of music, but I can’t pick exactly what I want to hear. For that I need to invest in an artist, which is pretty much exactly the deal radio had with the music industry pre-internet. I’m ok with that, though I do think regular AM and FM stations should have to pay something, no matter how modest, for the performance of the songs they play, as opposed to just paying the songwriters.

Recordings are now generally regarded as a loss leader for touring, where an artist has more control over expenses and pay.  But for many artists all that does is put more weight on touring than it can support. The current model is broken, but good folks like Bandcamp aside, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in changing it. So look at it like this – buying the CD or the download isn’t making the artist rich, but it might put a buck or two in his or her pocket. Little enough, for what we get.

 

 

moto e, round 2

So despite my antipathy towards Verizon for a.) instituting an utterly made-up, just another reason to extract money from your pocket “activation” fee and b.) not turning on the FM chip in virtually any of its Android phones and c.) not letting you just buy a pre-paid phone and add it to your regular post-paid account (what you have when you get a bill each month), despite all that, I got another Moto E.

It is a shockingly good phone for a low end device. No, scratch that; for an ordinary person – and when it comes to cell phone use, I am one – it’s a good phone, period.

The thing was on sale through walmart.com for $27, tax included. Not as good as the $9.99 deals Best Buy has offered in the past, but given that the phone has a fictitious full price of $199 and Verizon sells it every day for $79, not bad.

However, in order to use it on your regular account, you have to buy a month of pre-paid service. I bought the absolute lowest end plan for $30, activated the phone, waited a few hours and swapped the SIM card from my hand-me-down Galaxy Note II. Worked like a charm.

So what does $57 get you? In my case, it got a phone running Android 5.x, which is mildly useful for my work, since I need to look at my company’s app and mobile web site, and this gives me a proper, modern verson of Android for the job. Motorola puts no junk on the phone, though I’m not using its Moto Assist functions – which are said to be genuinely useful. For that matter, I’m also not using Google’s “Ok Google” spoken word interface. Tried it this afternoon and even on this modest phone, it runs well. But I’m old and stubborn so I disabled it and then waded into the thicket of Google permissions to shut down whatever Google does to make voice recognition work. I have no idea if I got it all.

The interface is almost stock Android, but I can’t stand having the search bar at the top of the page, so I installed Nova Launcher, got rid of the bar, got rid of animations, tried to make the phone as plain as possible. I also downloaded some solid color backgrounds and went from a colorful picture of a bright yellow record on a turntable with a black tone arm to…gray.

(Aside: whether it’s Apple or Google or Amazon, why don’t companies ever include simple, solid color backgrounds? Zebras, butterflies in extreme close-up and piano keys in late afternoon sun I can live without; a nice deep blue or gray, I can’t.)

The phone itself is a little small. I would be happier if the display was maybe three-tenths of an inch or so bigger; mind you, I’m not a fan of the phablet-sized displays that dominate the market now. Even though I have bigger hands than 99 percent of the human race, I don’t want to haul around what amounts to a small tablet. A lot of people are now skipping tablets entirely and relying solely on their phones. I get it, but I’m not interested, at least not so far. But the E is small like iPhones (before the 6) were small, minus the resolution.

In fairness, when I put it up next to an iPhone 5s, I can see the Moto E is bigger, but…it still feels small. Not crowded, not cramped – which is how iPhones make me feel, pre-6 – but small. I feel it most reading a book; my Note II is a pleasure to read on. This feels like I’m reading each page a few paragraphs at a time. But I’m getting used to it, as I do, and my guess is in another week or so, I won’t notice.

I do notice other things, all good: call quality is loud and clear, something you can’t say about many cell phones. The Moto is as responsive, in most ways, as the Note II. Doing a virus scan is slower, but that may be because I switched my scanner of choice to Malware Bytes. Android 5.x, in the context of a phone (I’ve only ever used it on tablets) is really good. I think material design – or whatever it’s called – is a huge improvement over everything that came before it on Android, looks-wise. And even though it’s smaller, using the keyboard is as easy as it was on the Note II. The battery isn’t removable – which I hate – but the one in the phone gives somewhere between 14 and 20 hours of up time, it appears. I haven’t stressed it yet, but I wouldn’t expect battery life to get much worse in normal use.

And of course, it has FM. Far as I can tell, it’s the one and only Verizon Android phone that does, and I have no idea how it slipped past Verizon’s net. I can compare it to four Windows phones I’ve owned that had FM, and early on this is significantly better. NCPR comes through stronger, with less background noise, than any of my Winphones. I haven’t checked WRVO or WCNY, my other two regular haunts, but I suspect I’ll get the same result with them. And it is such a pleasure to have FM; the weather has finally turned in my little town and I started walking this week. I had The World and Snap Judgment for company on two of my evening walks, Morning Edition early in the day. Yes, I could use TuneIn or NPR One or something, but FM is free – which is weirdly valuable this month since we accidentally went over our data cap. Anyway, it’s silly – this is the cheapest phone I’ve ever owned, but for my purposes, it may also be the best.

wins where you can get ’em

Work’s been busy and I’ve been preoccupied with other things, so instead of my rigid “one week on an Android phone, one week an iPhone, one week a Windows phone” routine, I just used the Galaxy Note II for a few weeks. I’m getting comfortable with Android.

Anyway, as noted here a while ago, the app that broke when I moved my Windows phone from 8/8.1 to 10 was one I hated to lose – TuneIn Radio. Even though I stick with Windows phones partly because the FM tuner is activated, which allows me to receive “real” radio, sometimes I want to stream a station.

I use TuneIn on my laptops, desktops, tablets and most of all my phones because it’s the best streamer I’ve found when it comes to depth and breadth of radio station listings, and also in keeping the streams working. It’s not perfect – especially the current interface, which attempts to be “social” but which I find confusing – but is better than anything else.

And it runs on everything, which is a big deal for me. Most developers can’t be bothered with Windows phones, so I’m loyal to the ones who do, like the makers of the excellent Pocket Casts and, of course, TuneIn. I was greatly disappointed when TuneIn wouldn’t work natively on Windows 10 Mobile. None of the mooted substitutes in the Windows store were anywhere close to adequate.

So I was delighted tonight when I got out my WinPhone after a few weeks of not touching it, updated the OS, updated the programs, and happened to check the store. Sure enough, TuneIn has now built a version for Windows 10. It downloaded and installed/opened fine. I’ll test it with a walk this weekend, and maybe a long, satisfying listen to KCRW or WFMT. Thank you, TuneIn – with WinPhones, little victories mean a lot.

the workaround that wasn’t

As much as I complain about Verizon not activating the FM chip inside the cell phones it sells, the company does have one Android phone with working FM. It’s the Moto E, the lowliest member of the E-G-X family, which is available for under $40 at your neighborhood walmart.com.

The Moto E is about as cheap as you can go and still get a recognizably modern Android phone. It has a modest processor, one gig of ram and out of the box, eight gigs of storage. The screen is not much to look at; the resolution is circa 2011. But, hey, what do you expect for $36? And yep, right there in the middle of the first apps screen, “FM radio.”

I know all this because I went to the trouble of acquiring one, briefly, and with it a surprising amount of trouble.

Verizon’s pre-paid phones fall into two categories – expensive popular phones (think iPhone) a generation or two back from the current iteration, and cheap phones designed specifically for the pre-paid market. Historically, Verizon has drawn a line between “pre-paid” and “contract” phones and did not want the two to mingle, but from what I found on the subject – including Verizon’s own customer forums – I could put a Moto E on my account, as long as the SIM was inserted into the phone before it was turned on and activated. I already swap my SIM among three phones on a regular basis, so I figured one more was no big deal.

I fished the SIM out of the phone I was using, moved it into the Moto E, powered it up. At first it looked like it worked – the phone found the network – but after I skipped through the activation screens I did get a “The SIM you’re using is not compatible with this device.” Well, rats. That didn’t work. I powered down the Moto E, extracted the SIM and cursed not having figured out a workaround that would give me FM radio on Android.

After I packed up the Moto E to return it, I slipped the SIM back into the phone I had been using, powered it up and all seemed normal. But when I tried to make a call, I was redirected to Verizon. Take the SIM out, reseat it, make sure I’m not overlooking something obvious. Same result.

I thought maybe what I was seeing was the result of using the SIM with an adaptor. Because two phones I use have “nano” SIMs, but one has a “micro” SIM, I have to put the nano SIM into a little cardboard tray every time I want to use the phone that takes the micro size. It’s a little touchy, but has worked so far. Last night though, I figured the cardboard tray might be damaged. So I took the SIM out of the tray and put it into one of the phones that uses a nano SIM. Same result – the phone powered up fine, found the network, but no calls would complete. This being a Sunday night, Verizon was closed so I went online and used the activation tool to try and set things right. The phone activated fine; there were no messages, warnings, whatever. But I still couldn’t make a call.

12 hours later, I was at my local Verizon mall store, talking to a helpful young lady. She grabbed a new SIM, flashed it for me and popped it into my phone after typing some Verizon authorization magic onto her tablet. Handed it back to me, said make a test call. I did, and…Verizon answered.

Hmmm.

More typing, checking of various settings that I don’t have access to. Finally, she says ‘Because you tried to use the Moto E, your number was hotlined.’ I’m not exactly sure what hotlined means in this context, but it can’t be good. Some more typing, the phone powered down one last time and then back up, and whatever part of Verizon that was holding onto my account had been persuaded to loosen its grip. I could again use my phone.

Now, the young woman who helped me was very nice, didn’t charge me for the fix or the SIM card. Couldn’t be happier with the service. But it’s worth considering the underlying facts for just a minute: I tried to activate a phone that I couldn’t activate. The Moto E accurately relayed to me what the problem was. But rather than leaving matters there, Verizon went on to fry the SIM and leave me without cell service for half a day. And remember, it wasn’t clear or obvious from the start that I couldn’t use the Moto E; in fact, the helpful person at Verizon told me you can use your pre-paid phone on your contract – if you buy a month of pre-paid service up front. That’s right, $45 for the privilege of using a cheap phone to consume more of their service. Still, I suppose it beats the company’s old policy, which she informed me was to make you buy pre-paid for six months.

And none of it, none of it, would have happened if Verizon would just take the simple, decent step of activating the FM radio chip which is in most cell phones. Verizon: rather than treating me like a potential criminal, how ’bout you lighten up, turn on your radios, and let us all move on to more important things? I’ll send you just shy of $230 this month. Expressed over a year, I give you close to $3,000. What I want in return doesn’t seem like much to ask for.

 

tuned out

Dead though the platform may be, I still like Windows phones. (This is probably the same impulse that led me to buy an Amiga 1200, long after it was obvious the company wasn’t coming back.)

And because I like Windows phones, I did a modest upgrade this weekend, from my ancient-in-phone-years Lumia 822 to the Lumia 735, the Microsoft-branded version of the 735 which debuted on Verizon, my carrier, last year. The 735 is bigger, has a much better screen, is somewhat faster. Given how long I keep my cell phones, this one will see me until either a.) there’s a major upgrade in the WinPhone platform or b.) the platform dies. I’m not taking bets.

Anyway, the experience out of the box was uniformly positive, with one weird exception that is almost a deal-breaker. First, the good news: it took me under a hour to kill all the apps I didn’t want, update what was left, then update the phone to the latest version of 8.1.

Better still, moving to Win 10 was easy, unlike some of my experiences with the 822. From download to reboot and upgrade of various pieces of software, maybe an hour, probably less. If you’re used to iPhone or Android upgrades that may seem like a long time, but believe me, for a WinPhone it’s the Indy 500.

And Win 10 mobile just works. Like a lot of WinPhone fans, I mourn the loss of some of the things that made Windows phones unique, but the big thing, the tile-based interface, is still there, as are live tiles, though they don’t get used enough.

Once I had a working Windows 10 phone, and all the built-in apps were updated (and I deleted Facebook and a few others again – die, dammit) I began downloading the handful of apps I use. One of the things that makes me an ideal Windows phone user is the fact that I just don’t need a lot of apps – in fact, I’m always looking for an excuse to delete what I have. And as it turns out, WinPhones have most of what I need – Kindle, Audible, Amazon shopping, NY Times, PocketCasts (a fine company, not least because its podcast app runs on iOS and Android and Windows phone), a few others.

And importantly, very importantly, the 735 supports FM radio. This is a huge deal for me, since I walk when the weather is nice, and if I’m not listening to a podcast or a book, I’m listening to radio. Having an actual, real honest-to-god radio inside my phone is enormously comforting to me. I wouldn’t have gotten the 735 without it.

But…there are times when I need radio by other means, and for years my go-to application has been TuneIn Radio. Of late, TuneIn has branched into streaming books, language lessons and major league sports, but the core has always been the radio stations you can listen to through the app. TuneIn isn’t perfect – sometimes streams refuse to play for no good reason – but it’s the best of its kind. I’ve kept a list of favorite stations – like WFMT in Chicago – in TuneIn for years.

And it’s cross platform, always has been. I’ve used TuneIn since WinPhones were on version 7.5, and I had an HTC Trophy. It’s one of my most called on apps, and it ran just fine on the 822, which is a four year old phone.

But it doesn’t run – excuse me, “isn’t compatible with” – the 735. This makes no sense. According to the Windows store, the 735 is missing some piece of hardware TuneIn needs in order to run well, which doesn’t seem likely, given that the phone is in all ways newer, faster, better than the 822. Granted, it’s a mid-line phone, but as far as I know, it’s not missing some common component that used to be in cell phones, but isn’t now. And TuneIn supposedly runs on other mid-level Windows phones.

My guess is this has something to do with Windows 10. TuneIn ran on the 822, but then it was on the phone when it running 8.1 and just came along for the ride when I upgraded to 10. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s all I can think of. In the meantime, I’m looking at other “radio” programs, all of which seem to promise a lot, but aren’t likely to be as good as what I’ve lost. Here’s hoping it’s temporary.

(Yes, I know Microsoft talks about universal apps and Windows 10 Mobile. I know the lingo. For the purpose of talking about Windows phones, I use WinPhone as shorthand for all of that.)