Radio -- it's come a long way, baby.
Imagine the pure joy of driving coast-to-coast listening
to your favorite station. All the way. Uninterrupted. And the sound
is CD quality.
Impossible? No longer. It's called satellite radio.
And you can have it in your car today.
This pay service works like satellite dish TV. For
a monthly fee you'll receive more than 100 stations carrying news,
music, talk, comedy and sports.
"I love it -- it's sweet," says Derek Lee,
managing director of Mobile Dynamics, an auto sound-system installation
school in Toronto.
Like satellite-dish TV, satellite radio requires special
equipment to receive the digital signals, translate them into sound
and pump it through your car sound system.
Lee says the quality is near perfect. "It has
the potential to arrive at the speakers without distortion, just
like CDs," he says.
Ron Rodriguez of Sirius -- one of the two companies
that supply programming -- points out that the sound from satellite
channels is near the quality you get when you play a CD on your
in-car system, but the quality depends on how good your sound system
"We can't make your sound system better, but
satellite radio sounds dramatically better than the AM or FM radio
Also raving about satellite radio is Lorrin Palagi,
a radio-programming consultant with Zapoleon Media Strategies in
"Too many commercials are a turnoff to many people.
With satellite, you're never out of the type of music you enjoy."
But before you buy the equipment and service, Palagi
suggests you go to a car dealer with vehicles that have satellite
radio and listen to it in the show room or, even better, during
a test drive.
Two service providers
Currently, there are two satellite radio providers in the U.S.
licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The two, Sirius
and XM, have
invested a total $3.5 billion in satellites and ground equipment
to enable motorists to get near-CD sound quality no matter where
Sirius offers 50 channels of news, talk and sports
and 60 channels of commerical-free music -- pop, rock, classical,
etc. It costs $12.95 a month and less if you buy a year's subscription.
XM offers 116 total channels including 68 commercial-free
music channels; 32 of news, talk, sports, netertainment, kids
and comedy; and 16 channels of local traffic and weather. All
for $9.99 a month. One additional channel is available on XM --
the Playboy station -- for an extra $2.99 a month. If you see
a bumper sticker emblazoned "Club 205," you'll know
what the vehicle's occupants are listening to.
You can enjoy satellite radio in your car in
Many car companies offer satellite radio in models as standard equipment
or as options. In 2004 models, XM can come installed in the Chevrolet
Impala, Cadillac Escalade, Audi A4, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima
and Toyota Camry Solara. Sirius is available in the Chrysler Sebring,
Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Mustang, Jaguar S-Type, Mazda Tribute,
Infiniti G35 and BMW. Audi, Nissan and Infiniti offer either service
in many of their vehicles.
The dealer's optional charge for equipment that receives
XM or Sirius ranges from $300 to $800, depending on the models.
You can have satellite equipment (tuner and antenna) installed that
plays satellite channels through your current car's AM/FM sound
system for as little as $150, says Rodriguez.
Instead of adapting your existing receiver, you can replace
your current AM/FM radio unit with a satellite-ready radio, which
includes a head unit, tuner and antenna, starting at about $150.
A plug-in module is also available that enables you
to take the satellite programming to your home, office or the
beach. You can simply plug the module in to your car or home stereo
system or even a boom box at work or at play. The plug-and-play
setup goes for about $200.
XM now also offers a complete XM aftermarket product,
the XM Roady, available at $120, says Allen Goldberg of XM.
Once you have the equipment, you must then subscribe
to the service.
While each of the services claims its reception and
sound is superior, Lee believes either is fine.
A minor disadvantage to satellite is what he calls
"Going through a tunnel or getting sandwiched
between two 40-story buildings could interrupt the signal momentarily,"
Just like satellite TV, forests, mountains and tall
stands of trees or shrubs can also cause brief signal interruptions
which normally last only a second or two, thanks to ground-level
repeaters that relay the signals at lower levels. As far as whether
to take the car dealer's option or go outside for adaptor kits,
Lee believes you get better equipment for a lower price outside
the dealer in the aftermarket.
But is satellite radio worth the extra money?
You bet, say those who have heard it. As Lee says,
"Satellite radio smokes AM and FM!"