Satellite (?) Radio??

  • Satellite (?) Radio??
    I haven’t yet really commented on the emergence of nationwide satellite radio like XMRadio, mostly because I haven’t heard it, wasn’t sure it would actually come to fruition, and really hadn’t yet given it too much thought. But lately I’ve been getting questions about it and it seems as though the service is for real, with recievers now available for around $299 (just $289 more than my last AM/FM radio).

    I still haven’t heard it, but the idea is intriguing — having just taken a 2000 mile round-trip drive between Urbana and the Denver-metro area, I’ve found much of radio in between can suck pretty hard. Having one good radio station (or several) for the entirety of the trip is not a bad idea. Of course, this is at the expense of local radio and local service, which can be very good — I enjoyed Columbia, MO’s KOPN for the 30 miles or so that I could hear it, and last year I found High Plains Public Radio. And since it’s early in XMRadio’s lifespan, the cost is somewhat prohibitively high.

    The Washington Post reports that satellite radio providers and wireless phone companies are clashing over interference issues. It seems that satellite radio isn’t always broadcast over satellite. In some cases it’s broadcast by terrestrial repeaters using the same frequency range, because satellite reception requires very good, focused line of sight to the south sky, which can be difficult to maintain in a moving vehicle. Of course, this means that satellite radio is a partial misnomer, since it’s also partially broadcast radio, except that it has the exact same programming nationwide.

    While the fight between sat radio and wireless is really just a pissing contest, the issue of a satellite radio provider needing terrestrial broadcast spectrum space (just like conventional TV and radio) shouldn’t be forgotten, especially since this is radio that costs $10 a month. On top of this charge XMRadio still has commercials — you’d think the $10 a month charge is there to make up for lost ad revenue. Conventional broadcast stations don’t charge you a dime (at least not directly — how much of $1 you paid for a Pepsi funds their gargantuan ad budget?).

    Until I actually have a chance to hear the service I’m reticent to pass final judgement. Though from the facts I know I think it’s not quite ready for prime time — it costs too much without offering something radically different than broadcast. The fact that it uses terrestrial repeaters bugs me, but that might also be the system’s achilles heel, depending on how the battle with wireless companies goes or how much deploying that level of infrastructure ends up costing.

    And remember, on a good night, you can still listen to the same clear-channel AM radio station for hundreds of miles. The ionosphere makes a good satellite, no?

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