The Satellite Radio

What is Satellite Radio?

Two satellite radio companies, XM Radio and Sirius Radio, operate over North America. Each provides well over a hundred channels of 24-hour-a-day content, mostly music, news, sports and talk shows.

Both systems cover Alaska, Canada, the continental U.S.A. and northern Mexico, but not Hawaii.

Satellite radio is beamed down from communications satellites to receiving antennas, as in satellite television; similarly, the receiving antenna must be pointed toward the satellite. At only about two inches across, a radio antenna is much smaller than a TV dish.

To listen to satellite radio, you buy a receiver, and then pay a subscription fee to get an activation code, which enables your receiver to decode the digitalized content.

Subscription fees are around $13 per month — less with longer commitments. XM Radio charges a $10, one-time activation fee.

Choosing a satellite radio service is not simple, so the more you learn about the two services, the more satisfied you will be with your decision. It comes down to personal choice because, to the user, XM and Sirius are quite similar in equipment, pricing and — most importantly — content.

Satellite Radio Receivers

Satellite radio receivers are marketed for mobile and/or home use. People often carry them between home and auto, as most receivers are the size of a hand-held calculator. A receiver must be nestled into a docking device in order to work. Called a car kit or a home kit, the dock supplies power to the unit and provides connections for antenna and output devices. These tiny satellite receivers have no built-in speakers.

Most models are designed to slip into car kits, home kits, or boom boxes. A huge market is emerging for pocket radios with earphones, and which double as MP3 players.

Both brands contract with sound system manufacturers to build home tuners with satellite receiving circuitry. You have only to hook up the satellite antenna and pay your subscription fee.

Automobile manufacturers can now supply pre-installed, in-car satellite radios. XM Radio partners mainly with General Motors, Honda and Suzuki. Sirius Radio has Ford, Chrysler, and VW as partners.

Choosing a Satellite Radio Receiver

First of all, XM and Sirius equipment are not compatible. Each employs its own, proprietary electronics and software, so neither receiver can work with the competing system.

Brand-for-brand, similar products are priced competitively. Prices tend to drop as newer models arrive. Dealers regularly hold sales, and generally keep prices between the two brands competitive. Deeper discounts are often found at the manufacturers’ websites.

XM have existed longer, and have published studies showing that their sound reproduction is superior.

Sirius hosts the most helpful website with more product information including online user and installation manuals.

New buyers, though, are seldom able to make decisions from such sales information alone.

Talk, rather, with sales people and listen to systems in different stores. Ask their installers for advice, too.

Although both companies offer free trial periods, watch out! You’ll need to buy a receiver and docking kit (a $100 outlay) before you can “try it for free”. Are you willing to do that… twice?

Satellite Radio Programming

XM Radio boasts over 170 channels. Sirius Radio carries over 130 channels. Simply comparing numbers serves little purpose, however.

Do you absolutely need the 15 sports channels on XM, or could you live with the 12 from Sirius? Choose carefully here: competing sports channels differ greatly in what they cover!

XM sends about 70 commercial-free music channels, while Sirius sends about 30. Sirius claims 23 rock stations, yet includes reggae and hip-hop in that category; XM lists 14 rock stations and 6 separately listed hip-hop channels.

While most receivers have 30 channel presets, can you recall where you have stored your 30 favorite channels? Would you even have 30 favorites? How many of those are you likely to tune into on your drive home?

The Installation Challenge

The easiest installation by far is with the home kit: the instructions show how to locate your antenna for strong, clear reception using the built-in signal strength meter.

The receiver can be situated at a distance, thanks to the long antenna wire (and optional extensions). For best sound, plug the receiver directly into your stereo with an audio cable.

More versatile is the XM Radio’s Wireless FM Modulator (or Sirius Radio’s FM Frequency) function, which re-broadcasts the satellite channel out to any FM radio in your home. The instruction manual explains this clearly, and it is not especially difficult to set up.

Car installations are more challenging! The easiest part is positioning the magnetic antenna onto your car roof.

Then, if all goes well, the FM re-broadcasting antenna can push enough signal from your receiver (inside the car) to your regular car antenna (somewhere on the outside, wherever the auto designers thought appropriate).

For best listening quality use an audio cable directly between the satellite receiver and your car radio AUDIO IN. If that socket is hidden behind the dashboard, you may want skilled help.

Sirius Radio offers many more optional devices for improving receiver-to-car-antenna transmission within the tricky environment of an automobile.

The History of Old Time Radio

The term “Old Time Radio” refers to the entertainment programs that were broadcast to the public from the early 1920s to the early 1960s. In the beginning, most radio programs emulated the vaudeville acts that were the mainstay of public amusement before radio. Comics and singers ruled the airwaves! Best of all, you no longer had to leave your home to enjoy their talents! Eventually, however, audiences matured and other types of programs were added to the radio schedule. Drama series became extremely popular including shows about doctors, soap operas, and even movie scripts that were adapted for radio. Action series brought cops, robbers, private detectives, and westerns into the home! Fantasy series thrilled audiences with well known characters including Superman and the Green Hornet! Horror fans got their share of ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. Those who craved science fiction got their weekly craving for tales of the future, space travel, and exploration of the unknown. Game shows like “You Bet Your Life” gave the average person an escape from everyday life!

The first commercial radio station in the U.S. (KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) began occasional broadcasting in 1920. By 1922, the first regularly broadcast old time radio shows had begun. Up until the late 1920s, musical programs were most popular with shows highlighting opera, big bands, jazz, classical, and popular music.

In the 1930s, the first daytime series appeared featuring romance and other subject matter that appealed to the typical American housewife. Most of those programs were sponsored by soap products and that’s where the term “Soap Opera” originated. Radio shows like “The Cisco Kid” and “Captain Midnight” were broadcast in the afternoons for the entertainment of young people as they returned home from school. Comedy series began to appear including the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” and the “Jack Benny Show” which both began in 1932. “Amos ‘N Andy” actually hit the airwaves in 1928! Then in the early 1940s, a nearly never-ending list of comedy programs joined those pioneers and comedy shows became the most prolific genre through the end of Old Time Radio.

By 1947, 82% of people in the U.S. listened to the radio on a regular basis. The Old Time Radio shows were not like most audio books of today where someone with a pleasant voice reads you a book. Old Time Radio shows were productions just like the television programs of today. There were sound effects, multiple actors in multiple roles, and first rate scripts! Many people today are shocked at how entertaining they can be when they hear their first Old Time Radio program. The lack of video can actually be a plus! Your mind often imagines the characters and scenery much better than seeing those things on a television screen.

Most Old Time Radio Shows were aired live up until the late 1940s. Therefore, the most popular shows had to be performed twice due to the time difference between the east coast and the west coast. Most of those programs are lost to us today as they were generally not recorded. There are exceptions where and advertiser wanted copies of their programs or for some programs that aired in syndication. Thankfully, by the early 1950s, many programs were broadcast live on the east coast and recorded for later broadcast on the west coast. A surprisingly large number of those recordings are still in existence today thanks, mostly, to collector/hobbyists who acquired them through the years. Due to their age, most of those are available free of charge on the web or at very low cost on cd (in mp3 format) from numerous vendors.

In the mid 1950s TV was becoming the king of entertainment and radio was transforming into a mostly musical format. There were shows, however, that continued for a few more years and some of them even aired at the same time as a TV version of the same program.