So we begin the song with a pretty amazing and awesome intro that I think really helps set the mood. Not to mention that beginning riff in the first 20 or so seconds of the song is freaking awesome. So, onto the first verse...
Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that's so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood
So here we're talking about a radio DJ I believe, and the music they play. How many of us have listened to a radio in the morning that plays music? Speaking of music, it being called elusive could be a reference to perhaps the power of music, or even just the sensation of really liking the song, but not being told the title, or perhaps even a song that you only hear at that time, so in a sense it's elusive. And that last line should be obvious...again how many of us have had our morning mood set to a positive one based off of music we were listening to in the morning?
Off on your way, hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the Spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact in your happy solitude
So here we're talking about the DJ. The first line could be a reference to how they can play whatever music they have, when they want; a sort of "open road" if you will. "Magic at your fingers" references how music carries magic and power, and influence; this third line is about the only time in the song this "Spirit" is ever referenced; perhaps in relation to the rest of the song, this Spirit, The Spirit of Radio, is a sort of also spirit of music that's about playing honest, earnest music. You'll see what I mean later. And that last line references how DJs are often in their studio alone doing their thing.
And now we get a neat short instrumental (and that awesome riff) and the first instance of the chours:
Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free
Simply put, they're talking about a radio. The airwaves crackle to life with the sound of music, and the antennae are bristling with the energy of the music. The 3rd line references again, the feelings, emotions, and so on that come with music. The last line is talking about how the ability to listen to music is a "gift beyond price"; it's "almost free" because you do need to buy a radio, and it does cost things to run a radio station.
All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open hearted
Not so coldly charted
It's really just a question of your honesty, yeah
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity
And I'll go on record and say this is the piece of the song that I tend to reference the most. Here the singer is talking about how times are changing, people are using more electronics and machines then ever to produce music, but that's okay; what doesn't matter is how you produce it - what matters is why. "It's really just a question of your honesty." And the second half of this verse is also another part that really takes a jab at musicians who truly "sell out". The singer here is basically saying "If you compromise your musical integrity for status and fame, and don't write what you want to write, you aren't really free to write what you want; you're a slave to your fame and status". And this is what I meant by the Spirit of Radio and how it feels; it also being a musical spirit of sorts wants people to make the music they want, and to enjoy the music they want to. Thus the Spirit of Radio is within those who make the music they want to make, and within those who play and listen to the music that they want to listen to and play.
And we get the chorus again, and finally:
For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen
I think here it's talking about how many musical artists aspire to play in front of an audience, perhaps even at huge mega stadiums. The last line references how concert halls and studios echo with the sound of salesmen...both concert halls and salesmen being forces that can cause one to compromise or even destroy their musical integrity.
And that's my take on this song. Overall? Well I think it's a song that talks about the power, and perhaps even responsibility, Radio DJs and Musicians have. They're the ones making and playing music, and they have the power to influence thoughts, feelings, emotions, even political stances. The Spirit of Radio wants you to play and listen to and journey down the roads of music as you want to; the Salesmen and Concert Hall want you to compromise that integrity for fame, fortune, and lots of profits. It's a really great song that really speaks some volumes on what lyracist Neil Peart feels about music and the musicans behind it, and the people playing the songs on the radio.