Sports cards on CD show roundball stars in glory

June 07, 1999|By Mike Himowitz | Mike Himowitz,Sun Staff

From time to time I run across a program or Web site that intrigues me, and I put it on a "someday" list for my column. When I collect enough of them, someday arrives -- in this case, today:

Collectibles Department: When I was a kid, we'd take baseball cards and attach them to the struts of our bicycle wheels with clothespins so they'd slap against the spokes and make a sound like a motorcycle.

Nobody's likely to do that today. Trading cards are big money. Kids and adults collect them as an investment, and publishers are constantly coming up with new wrinkles to convince buyers that today's card is tomorrow's tuition at Harvard.

The latest brainstorm comes from The Upper Deck Co., which peddles its high-end card line through stores that cater to collectors. Its new PowerDeck interactive basketball cards are miniature CD-ROMs that will play in almost any reasonably equipped computer (PC or Mac), delivering videos, photos and stats about today's top players and yesterday's heroes.

The weird thing is that these CDs are the size and shape of regular trading cards (albeit with rounded tops and bottoms), and they'll fit into the plastic sleeves that collectors use to protect their investments. But if you plop one into the inner circle of your computer's CD-ROM tray, it will spin up and deliver a beautifully produced synopsis of the star's career. The video of Michael Jordan's last shot -- which beat the Utah Jazz for the 1998 NBA championship seconds before the buzzer -- is worth the price of admission alone.

But that's the catch. You can't buy one, at least not directly. Upper Deck has inserted one of the CDs into one of every 47 packs of its 1998-99 Encore Basketball cards, which sell for $4 a pack. The law of averages being what it is, you'll have to shell out better than $150 to get PowerDeck CD and a small fortune to get all nine in the first set. Assuming the card-collecting public takes the bait, Upper Deck figures this very scarcity will ensure PowerDeck's value to collectors.

By the way, the initial PowerDeck set includes Jordan and Julius Erving among the retirees, along with Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal from today's ranks.

We'll see if the gold rush pans out. For information, point your Web browser to www.upperdeck.com.

Time Travel Department: How would you like to have your computer play any Top 40 hit from the past 43 years at the click of a mouse? You can do it by visiting SongHits.com, which for my money is the the most incredible music site on the Web.

In addition to its encyclopedic Top 40 library, SongHits offers a superb collection of classic rock, country-western tunes, Big Band hits from the '40s and '50s, and singles by great vocalists including Frank Sinatra, Billy Holiday and the Ames Brothers. You'll also find smaller sections devoted to show tunes and children's songs. Altogether, SongHits provides more than 4,800 selections, with more added every day.

Whether you're into the Goo Goo Dolls, the Rolling Stones, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, The Temptations, Patsy Cline, Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Aerosmith, The Drifters, Bobby Darin, Count Basie, Smash Mouth, Tom Jones, Eric Clapton, Boyz II Men, Conway Twitty, Madonna, Kool and the Gang, Hoagy Carmichael, Barbra Streisand, Ray Stevens, Grand Funk Railroad, Harry James, Third Eye Blind, The Beatles, Three Dog Night, The Isley Brothers, or the Sons of the Pioneers, you'll find something to enjoy here.

To play a song, all you have to do is click on its title. The music is broadcast in RealAudio format, so don't expect high fidelity. For most of the older tunes -- which were recorded with AM radio in mind -- the sound is good enough. And given the nostalgia factor, you probably won't mind an occasional glitch.

I was going to write about SongHits.com some time ago, but the site went off the air for several months over the winter while its operators developed a scheme to pay for it. This isn't a pirate operation -- it licenses the music through normal industry channels.

As a result, to enjoy SongHits' latest incarnation you'll have to register (which consists of entering a legitimate e-mail address and a password). The Webmaster also urges members to keep advertisers happy by clicking occasionally on their banner ads. Clicking on an ad doesn't affect the song that's playing, and I didn't see any porn ads or other questionable banners, so you don't have to worry about letting the kids play here.

In fact, apart from a sometimes erratic server and occasional network congestion, the only thing you have to worry about is how much time you'll spend prowling around this delightful golden grooveyard. Point your Web browser to www.songhits.com.

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