Thursday, July 23, 2009

Satellite Radio FTW

I am going to go out on a limb here and just say it: Anyone who regularly listens to the radio in the car and yet who does not yet have satellite radio simply has no idea what they are missing. I got a 3-month trial to the pre-installed XM Radio with my car back in 2004, and within a week or so I was hooked. At this point, I literally cannot imagine driving for any sustained period of time with just plain old terrestrial radio to pass the time.

There are several factors making SiriusXM Radio the far preferable choice. For starters, the selection of offerings absolutely blows away anything available on regular old radio. Even living in a major media market like New York, I have a choice between just two sports talk radio stations if I listen to the old-fashioned car radio -- ESPNRadio or WFAN. That's it if I wanna listen to sports talk. But if I am one of the more than 20 million subscribers to satellite radio in America today, suddenly I have about six different choices to choose from, just in the sports talk genre. I get ESPNRadio, ESPNNews, MadDog Radio, Sporting News Radio, FoxSports and I think one other general sports talk station, and this doesn't even count all the baseball, football, NCAA and NASCAR stations and shows running basically 24-7 all through the satellite dial. The same is true for stock market news -- in New York, it's basically Bloomberg Radio and that's it, but on the satellite it's Bloomberg, Bloomberg Asia, CNBC and others. I've got 8 or 9 different traffic stations. Two weather stations. Probably 20 or 30 other content-specific talk stations, as compared to far fewer on the regular dial. Basically, when it comes to selection, it's not even close; SiriusXM blows terrestrial radio clear out of the water.

But the improved selection is not limited to just talk radio. The music choices are equally vastly superior on the satellite as compared to the terrestrial radio. Again, even living and driving in New York City every day, there are really only what, a couple of top-40 stations, a few dance music options, one classic rock station and a few R&B or other specific genre options. On the XM, however, there is not only greater selection by far, but the granularity of the choices is far greater. For example, my #1 preset on my XM is Channel 8 "the 80's on 8". It's all 80s music, all the time. Next is Channel 9 "the 90s on 9". They also have a 70s station, 60s, 50s and even a station that just plays music from the 1940s. I guess that would be Big Band n shit -- I don't know because I've never listened -- but my aging father in law with the worst taste in music of all time loves dem 40s tunes.

And it's more than just broken down by time periods too. One of my absolute favorite listens on the satellite is "Hair Nation", which plays 100% 80's hair band music, all the time, 24/7. There really is nothing like turning on the radio and knowing there is a decent chance of hearing Faster Pussycat's "House of Pain", "Never Let You Go" by Steelheart, or last night's commuting favorite for me, "Long Way to Love" by Britney Fox. Sure, you might hear one of those songs once a year if you listen all the time to z100 or whatever it is that old fashioned radio users listen to these days (I wouldn't know), but those are all songs I have heard just during my commute home from work over the past couple of weeks. In addition, there are at least 4 "alternative rock" stations on the satellite, there is a station devoted just to acoustic music, three classical music stations, two college music stations, at least three classic rock stations all cranking it out, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Oh, and did I forget to mention that most of these stations are commercial-free as well? That's right, in addition to buying you this incredible selection of varied music, most of the proprietary satellite music stations are commercial-free, other than short promos run by the satellite company to advertise other shows available on the SiriusXM network.

And all of the above talk about the incredible selection available on satellite radio these days hasn't even mentioned yet all of the awesome "extras" (as I call them) you get for being a SiriusXM subscriber. Every major league baseball game is broadcast every single day and night on XMRadio. Sirius, now merged with XM, has broadcast rights to every single NFL game as well. Every NASCAR event is on the satellite, along with most major college football conferences' basketball and football games. And while we're talking about sports, I mentioned Mad Dog Radio up above, but this is a new station created by and for Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, who recently left his many-year gig on the "Mike and the Mad Dog show" on WFAN in New York to literally create his own station on Sirius. And you know what? It's pretty good. Mad Dog's show "Mad Dog Unleashed" runs from 2-7pm every weekday, and then after that "The Dog House" rounds up the day's Mad Dog Unleashed episode by bringing back some of Chris's best rants of the day as well as some of the afternoon's best callers to further expound on the points they made earlier with Chris. The morning and nighttime hosts include former ESPNer Bill Pidto, John Gresh and several other notable personalities.

This ability for a new medium like satellite radio to essentially create entire channels around individual media personalities is not limited to the Mad Dog of course. Martha Stewart has her own channel on Sirius as well, as does Oprah Winfrey. Now don't get me wrong, I don't dig on overly political super-rich talk show hosts, and I certainly don't dig on insider-trading snobby rich bitch divas, but a lot of people do, and these stars get to not only host their own shows every day, but they can hand-pick the other contributors on their networks to best match the interests of their listening audience. It's a pretty amazing concept, actually, and something that's not even remotely available anywhere on normal, loser radio. Take Howard Stern for example -- I've listened off and on to Howard ever since college, but since his move to Sirius some years ago I have barely caught a whiff of what he has been up to. But now that I have access to his one only one but two networks on Sirius, I have to say that the Howard Stern show is back and better than ever. Not only are the bits as funny as ever, but adding Artie Lange has proven to be one of the best moves Howard has ever made, as Lange is funny as hell and is the perfect complement to Howard's style and that of Robin Quivers and the rest of the Stern clan. It's definitely worth checking out whether you were previously a fan or even for the first time, and this is someone talking who's never really been a big Howard Stern fan overall.

There are several other aspects of the technology involved in satellite radio and its nature of being beamed via satellite instead of regular radio waves that really enhance the user experience as well. For starters, let's think about the reception. Now, I'm not going to bullshit you -- on occasion, my satellite signal will occasionally go out -- never for more than a few seconds at a time -- when for whatever reason my receiver loses the signal due to a blockage, technical problems, whatever. There are a couple of streetcorners in Manhattan, for example, that I notice I basically always lose my reception while I am located there. But that said, otherwise the reception on the satellite is more or less perfect. The sound is crystal clear and the quality of the music is at least as good as regular radio. And you never -- and I mean never -- get that annoying static you're always hearing in the background on the regular radio, especially as you get a little ways away from the major cities. Given that there are redundant satellites broadcasting the entire SiriusXM band from space, there is basically no such thing as being "out of range" of any satellite radio station. For example, when I've gone to the beach with the Hammer Family over the past few years, I have been able to drive all the way from Boston halfway down to Florida on the East Coast while listening to Your World Champion Philadelphia Phillies win another game with some late-inning fireworks. The entire way. Without losing the signal or having to listen to even a single crackle of static. The whole notion of having to be "in range" of a particular station no longer exists once you make the move to SiriusXM -- as long as you're in the United States, you are always "in range".

The fact that SiriusXM broadcasts via satellite is another big advantage over traditional radio, in that the satellite providers are not regulated by the FCC.
This of course was cited as the big reason behind Howard Stern's move, and the end result of it is basically a completely censorship-free spectrum of stations. This means Howard can drop the f-bomb in normal conversations whenever he wants to, and the Mad Dog's callers can call the Mets "shitcocks" and "asshats" until the cows come home and nobody's ever going to bleep them except the host himself if he so chooses. Although this can be a bit jarring to hear at first when you're not expecting it, pretty soon you get used to it and in a lot of ways it can be hard to go back to regular terrestrial radio, which in comparison seems overly tame and just generally "boxed in" versus their satellite broadcasting counterparts. Certainly a show like Howard Stern's is 100 times better when listened to in its real, unadulterated form, and it also allows for things like the Playboy Channel on XM, and even a great uncensored comedy station that I have as one of my presets, because you never know when you're going to hear one of those great old clips from Richard Pryor, Louis CK or, of course, the "community titty" bit from Chris Rock.

The last technological advantage I will mention to satellite radio is the great "push" technology they have working where you can basically find out at any time exactly who sings the song you're listening to, what it's called, and what year and album it is from. I can't tell you how many times this comes in handy, especially when listening to all of the 80s, 90s and other stations playing mainly older music that you might not quite remember all the details of. In my older car with the earlier satellite receiver, the title and artist for all music, comedy bits, movies, etc. are pushed right to the output screen at the beginning of every song or bit played on the station. In Hammer Wife's new car with a brand spanking new updated receiver, SiriusXM not only pushes the same information to the LED display at the beginning of every item it broadcasts, but with the click of one button you can find out the same information at any time during the playback of a particular song or bit. It's a very handy kind of information that you never really knew you wanted until you finally have it with SiriusXM, and then you get stuck listening to regular old shitty radio and suddenly want to know what album this old Who song is from, or who it is who did this great stand-up bit about clowns or whatever.

As the last great factor in favor of satellite radio, I should mention the price. Now, perhaps this is part of the problem that forced XM and Sirius to merge, and still had the combined company teetering on the edge of a bankruptcy filing just a month or two ago, but the price is IMO incredibly cheap. Depending on exactly which payment plan you opt for -- and I would not suggest committing and paying in advance for more than a year or so given the current situation at the company -- you can basically get full SiriusXM service for around $12 a month. And that's not to say that $12 a month is nothing -- every little bit counts, especially these days for sure -- but when you compare that cost to other costs associated with your car, it really is like drops in a bucket. I mean, if you have an "average" car in this country, it probably still cost somewhere in the neighborhood of what, 20 grand? More? If you lease a similar quality of vehicle, again you're probably looking at a good $300-400 a month just to have the car. And if you have even a normal-sized commute, you probably put in what, $20 a week of gas at least? With repairs, regular maintenance and other extras, I guess I just don't think another $12 a month for such a clearly superior product to the crap we all used to be satisfied with because we didn't know any better is a really good deal.

I mean, if I offered to make your experience driving your car significantly better from what you've grown up with and gotten accustomed to, with no real drawbacks whatsoever, wouldn't you pay $150 a year for that? And wouldn't you want to help others to experience the great deal that satellite radio is for the user as well as the passengers in any car in which it is installed? Or would you rather keep dropping $70 a pop on the full tilt super turbo 750k sats and then claim they are like having your own mint? Exactly.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Astin said...

Dude, when did you start working for SiriusXM? Can you get the bloggers hooked up? Maybe a BuddyDank Radio channel?

I don't spend nearly enough time in a car or listening to the radio to justify paying a CENT for it. But my dad's truck has it and it's been pretty cool the couple of times I've gone for a ride in it. In fact, the car I'm taking from Newark to AC next weekend was chosen partially because it came with satellite radio.

But wow... I assume the latest version also blows you at stop lights or something with that rave review :).

6:21 AM  
Blogger Miami Don said...

I believe it's "THE" and not "YOUR" when talking about the Phillies. I'm certainly not taking any possession of anything Philly!

Can't one listen to satellite radio via internet if one is working in some fancy high rise office building?

If so I suggest Colin Cowherd.

8:02 AM  
Blogger OES said...

I've always wanted 8-9 different traffic stations. =)

10:14 PM  
Blogger BadBlood said...

Indeed, XM is great stuff.

Hair Nation->Boneyard->Octane->Liquid Metal in order of increasing heavyness.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Blood,

You're so right. I used to have the Boneyard on my presets but the others are a little over my level of metalicism.

But feel free to dump some 80's hair metal on me any day of the week during my drive home after a long day.

3:29 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:54 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

I love my XM. They might be gone in less than a year though. It will be a real shame. But with negative growth, they need something to happen soon.

BTW, they are not exactly 100% satellite. A friend who works for American Tower says their towers are used for carrying repeater signals. That's why I get XM in garages and covered parking decks. Which I found pretty strange because if they have earth based repeaters, wouldn't they need to comply with FCC regulations?

10:54 AM  
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6:02 PM  

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