radio showdown. The difficult choice between the cute dog and the ‘m’
by John "jaQ" Andrews
We've all gone through
Barreling down the
highway, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the SCAN button of the
radio, searching desperately for music that doesn't make you want to
drive off the shoulder. You finally find your favorite song, halfway
through but blaring boldly, urging you to croon along. Just as you're
ready to belt out the chorus, the radio gets all fuzz fuzz on you, some
other station on the same frequency starts cutting in and all of a
sudden you're hearing Britney begging you to hit her one more time and
you really, really want to.
Nothing beats local
radio for relevant news and the occasional area band, but media company
conglomeration is making it harder and harder to find truly unique
programming. Add in the range limitations of traditional radio towers
and it's easy to see why satellite radio has been gaining prominence
Satellite radio works
on the same basic principle as satellite television. Content is beamed
up to satellites in Earth orbit, which beam it back to a wide area down
here on terra firma. People with a subscription and receiving hardware
can decode the signal and listen to all the programming offered no
matter where they are in the contiguous United States.
The biggest decision is
figuring out which provider to go with, Sirius or XM. On one hand, XM
sounds like AM and FM, so it fits neatly into even the biggest
technophobe's worldview. On the other hand, Sirius has a cute little dog
for its logo.
Maybe some more
objective criteria are in order.
XM offers more than 150
channels, 67 of which are commercial-free music.
Different channels are
dedicated to jazz, Christian, Latin, classical and rock styles, among
others. Sports fans get Major League Baseball, NASCAR and college
football and basketball channels, while talk radio listeners can browse
the gamut from Bob Edwards to Opie & Anthony.
Sirius has more than
120 channels, with 65 commercial-free music stations. You get a similar
variety of music choices, but specific shows differ. Sirius snatched up
NFL, NBA and NHL licenses as well as NCAA basketball, horse racing,
English soccer and college sports. Martha Stewart and Howard Stern are
arguably the biggest stars on Sirius, though neither has quite started
broadcasting yet. Other notable voices include Bill Bradley and Jim
Breuer, along with Catholic and GLBT stations coexisting side by side.
Both services report on
traffic and weather in major metropolitan markets. XM has a dedicated
channel for each of 21 markets, while Sirius has 20 markets sharing a
XM and Sirius are
remarkably similar here. Both have a base price of $12.95 a month for
one receiver, with additional receivers under the same subscription
costing $6.99 a month. Both also offer a discount when you pre-pay for a
year or more; Sirius gives you lifetime service for $500. Business
subscriptions start at about $25 a month.
This really should be
your last consideration as, again, the offerings are remarkably similar.
Car, home and portable units are available for XM and Sirius services,
with boom box and stereo hookup accessories. Prices can fluctuate, but
similar units are similarly priced between the two companies.
It ends up being pretty
much a draw when choosing between XM and Sirius. Your best bet is to
look for the specific programming you're interested in and go with that
John Andrews, also
known as jaQ, is not only a technical wiz but he also writes and sings
his own songs. Each week in Hippo he examines some facet of the
gadget/techie world and offers his advice for how to get the most
technology bang for your buck. Have questions for jaQ? E-mail him at