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Serious About Satellite Radio

Breaker Breaker one-nine, C'mon back. Satellite Radio? What do I know about it?

Well it’s not CB radio, but follow me, Pig Pen and I’ll explain the differences between the space age satellite technology and Tesla created phenomena called terrestrial radio.

Here’s the quick tour.

There are two companies, XM and Sirius, who purvey the new technology. Currently both offer between 65 and 70 COMMERCIAL FREE program channels. Sirius adds 50 News, Sports, Talk & Entertainment channels while competitor XM provides 33 News, Sports, Talk & Entertainment stations along with 21 XM Instant Traffic & Weather channels.

The first difference between satellite and regular radio is that to listen to Satellite, you have to pay a subscription fee.

SIRIUS rates range from $12.95 monthly to $499.99 for a lifetime subscription. XM rates are similar ranging from $9.99 monthly to $449 for 5 years. Each has a comparable activation fee of around $15.00 though you’ll get a discount for activating online.

You’ll also have to buy a radio that will pick up satellite signals and that will set up back a few bucks. The price of a brand spanking’ NEW satellite radio receiver for your car can range from $200 to $2500 dollars depending on the features of the unit. You can FRANKEN-CLONE your existing radio set-up too, as there are portable radio attachments and adaptors.

So what are the technical advantages to Satellite Radio?

The dial can display the song you are playing (in case the DJ forgets to back-announce the songs he just played.)

Audiophiles will likely point out increased signal to noise ratio, improved dynamic ranges, lower harmonic distortion and other tech-bits using words that make great sales copy but are unfathomable to any normal woman or man.

There is the possibility of interactivity with "geeked-out" features on some of the radio hardware platforms. One forward thinking option is to push a button on the radio and buy the song you just heard. I’ll wait and see on this one.

Another oft-mentioned advantage of satellite is portability. You can now drive from San Diego to New York and never change the dial position. Even I have to admit that is impressive. That will come in handy the next time I’m hauling a "reefer" trailer with a load of frozen burritos to the "Big Apple" via the I – 40. I can pass the time digging the "Bill Walton Show".

What’s that, Rubber Duck? You want to know about the variety of programs?

With 60 channels, you’d think this is a good thing, but breaking down the possibilities, how many different styles of music do you listen to at any given time?

Case in point, I listen by mood. If my mood is up, I want music to match. Tell me anyone who can accurately predict your moods. I’m bored easily, and fall into the button puncher category. 60 means double the buttons I can punch here in San Diego. But do I really want to?

Most people I know are button punchers. The only time they aren’t punching buttons is when the radio station perfectly matches their taste in music (rarely) or when the radio is turned down. I don’t pay for this with old-fashioned terrestrial radio. With terrestrial radio, I can do this free. And for the price, a one-time investment in an MP3 player is even better when it comes to matching my musical tastes.

Just take your iPod and plug into the radio adapter. You never have to worry about a song you don’t like. You picked them.

So why the hype?

Simple. It’s new technology, in start-up mode, with a questionable business model. But it has the "cool-factor" mojo working right now. Yes, Howard Stern will join the satellite talent pool soon enough. But will that be enough? My guess is that eventually the "commercial-free start up model" will be replaced by an "ADVERTISER-based commercial model". Yes eventually satellite will become just like terrestrial.

Mel Karmazin was just named CEO of Sirius. He’s an old-school radio money person. And my guess is since he’s there; all commercial-free bets are off.

Am I as a broadcaster on San Diego’s Authentic Rock 102.1, KPRI … concerned? No… Not yet. (And it’s not the tall geeky ostrich burying head firmly in sand syndrome.)

I remember dot-coms.