Poor sound quality, bad reception, commercials and a lack of content are the main problems with conventional radio. Satellite radio solves all of the above.
Satellite radio is a form of digital audio broadcasting transmitted by satellite. The coverage is reinforced in metropolitan areas and major tunnels by ground based repeaters. Satellite radio uses radio waves to carry a digital signal that has to be processed by a computer. This digital signal provides CD-quality sound with no static. Conventional radio (AM, FM, shortwave) is analog.
In addition to crisp audio, other data, like song information, can accompany a broadcast. The broadcasts can also include digital tags to identify themselves and the genre of music. This allows receivers (radios that can process a digital signal) to scan channels by genre. Another advantage of satellite radio is that you don’t lose a channel when driving. This is because the satellites deliver coast-to-coast coverage, excluding northern Canada.
Late last year, the only players in American satellite radio, Sirius and XM, entered the Canadian market. The two services are not compatible: Sirius receivers cannot receive XM broadcasts and XM receivers cannot receive Sirius broadcasts. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered both companies to produce a cross-compatible receiver several years ago. Both companies claim they are working on developing the technology, but they’ve yet to announce a release date.
Sirius carries 55 commercial-free music channels and 45 news, sports and talk channels. Sirius also has exclusive satellite radio broadcasting rights for the NFL, NBA and starting in 2007 (ugh.) NASCAR. They also have the rights to several large college sporting events.
Howard Stern, Martha Stewart, Steven Van Zandt, Jimmy Buffett, Eminem, Tony Hawk, Lance Armstrong and Bam Magera have their own shows on Sirius. Sirius also broadcasts BBC Radio 1, National Public Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Howard Stern, the colourful radio personality, fled conventional radio for satellite because the FCC doesn’t have the mandate to control satellite radio content. The companies broadcasting Stern had, in the past, received hefty fines from the FCC because of his obscenity-laced shows. Late last year Stern signed an exclusive five-year, $500 million contract with Sirius.
However, if you have a Canadian receiver, you can’t listen to Stern’s broadcasts. Despite the popular belief that Stern was banned by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Sirius voluntarily chose not carry Stern in Canada. There is speculation that this was a pre-emptive move made to avoid any problems with the CRTC. The Globe and Mail estimates that some 60,000 grey-market American receivers are operating in Canada which allow users to tune into Stern.
XM has 61 commercial-free music channels and 24 news, sports and talk channels. Starting in the 2006-2007 season, XM will have exclusive satellite radio broadcasting rights for the NHL on the condition that they broadcast every game. Bob Dylan, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Tom Petty have their own shows on XM.
A monthly subscription with Sirius costs $14.99, and $12.99 with XM. Sirius also offers long-term contracts. Sirius car receivers start at $59.99 and XM car receivers at $69.99. Portable and home receivers are also available for both services.
Sirius claims that it has 3 million subscribers in Canada and the U.S. XM claims it has over 6 million, but Sirius’s market share is increasing. Both broadcasters have deals with several car companies to offer their receivers installed in new vehicles.
Since there’s only a minor price difference between the two services, exclusive content will likely form the basis for most consumers’ choice between the two. Despite all the advantages of satellite radio, I think it will be quite some time before most Canadians will be willing to pay for their radio.
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