Well, I decided to take it out again and REALLY take it apart this time. I messed with all sorts of stuff I shouldn't have and pulled a few things out that seemed a bit foreign. Lo and behold, when I put it back in it WORKED. I'm tempering my enthusiasm a bit because I don't know how long it will last but it's the first time I've heard the sound system really shine (radio sucks). Sounds pretty darn good for factory. So, to those reading this thread with similar issues...don't give up.
yeah.. the cd error on our cars are VERY common.. they are a piece of junk.. speaking from experience: for some reason pulling the negative cable off the battery alone does not always fix the issue.. if this happens to you again disconnect both battery cables for about 10 seconds then put them back on .. that has always fixed the issue with me.... at least until it starts to flake out again..
just replace the factory unit with something better.