Why Satellite Radio Sucks….

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Satellite radio – Sirius and XM – was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Freedom! No FCC censorship; wide-open programming. 

Well, sort of. 

There’s no censorship – but lots of commercials. Some of the talk channels are literally 40-50 percent ads. Debt relief; buy gold NOW; sex aids and get rich quick schemes. Sometimes these come in nonstop blocks that go on for ten minutes or more at a stretch. Granted, the music channels aren’t salted with all this crap, but the fact is a lot of people have things called MP3 players and music storage hard drives and CDs and prefer to listen to music of their own choosing. They subscribe to satellite to hear the talk stuff – especially Howard Stern and the political stuff. But it is grating to have to listen to an endless onslaught of shyster ads along the way – especially given that you are paying to hear them. 

Free radio and TV, ok. They have to make money and the way they make money is to put commercials on air. The commercials subsidize the programming. That’s the deal and it’s understood and more to the point, it’s a reasonable bargain. You aren’t paying anything (directly) to get the broadcast, so you put up with the pushy advertising. But there is something not right about paying to hear commercials, which is what you’re being forced to do with satellite radio (assuming you want the programming). It’s a big drag.  

If the music channels can be commercial-free, then the talk channels could be commercial-free also. To make up for the lost revenue, up the subscription. Charge people an extra $5 per month. Who doubts they’d pay it gratefully to not have to be assaulted by god-damned ads for once?       

Beyond the commercials, you’re also compelled to buy all sorts of programming you likely have zero interest in – in my case, a dozen sports channels – in order to get the two or three talk/news/entertainment channels you do wish to listen to, like Howard Stern. 

There is no technological reason why programming couldn’t be a la carte. You pick (and pay for) the content you want – and that’s it. How many of us regularly listen to more than 10 or 20 channels anyhow? Yet we have to wade through 150-plus channels – and pay for them – to get to what we do want.

It’s bullshit. And not only that, we’re being made to subsidize the crap we don’t want to listen to. 

Isn’t forcing people to buy what they don’t want or need the job of government?

That’s not the only way SiriusXM picks your pockets, either.

For instance, let’s say you’re already a subscriber and decide to buy a new vehicle and want satellite radio in the new vehicle as well as the car you’ve already got. You’d assume the only thing you’d need to buy would be the satellite-ready radio for the new vehicle. After all, you are already a subscriber, right? Well, just like the Cable company, SiriusXM will charge you a separate fee to hook up the second vehicle’s radio.

Similarly, you’d think that since XM merged with Sirius and became one company (SiriusXM) you’d be able to get XM programming if you were formerly a Sirius subscriber and Sirius stuff if you were an XM subscriber. Well, you can – for a fee. To get Howard Stern’s program on XM, for example, you have to pay more – even if you are already paying to hear him on Sirius. And bear in mind, the Stern Show is not part of the basic Sirius package; you have to pay extra to get him, up front. But if you want to hear him on XM too, you have to pay again – on top of what you already paid to get him on Sirius.

One annoyed subscriber writes:

“I just purchased a new Ford truck, the flyer at the Ford dealer has XM channels listed. Being an XM customer I thought I could just add a second radio, but no not so. I need to open a new Sirius account at higher rate than just adding a second radio to my XM account. Get’s better, the flyer showed XM/Sirius channel listing, but when I tried to access my station (Village – channel 15) guess what, not available on my Ford Sirius radio.”

Also, coverage can be spotty.

Drive underneath a thick tree canopy and the signal cuts out. If you live in a mountainous area, the tuner will frequently go blank – “searching for signal” – for as long as 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. This always seems to happens just when you’re getting really interested in whatever you’re listening to. When the signal comes back, it’s invariably just in time for another 10 minute block of commercials.

I speak from experience. Each week I test drive a new car or truck, many equipped with either Sirius or XM. I have sampled literally hundreds of vehicles, different makes and models, types and price ranges – you name it – all over this country. So I can report on this with some authority.

It’s a monster pain in the ass. Sure, satellite is better on long-haul road trips because (unlike FM) you don’t lose the signal entirely once you get “x” distance away from the source. But in real life, most people drive to and fro locally, most of the time – and if the satellite signal is constantly cutting out sporadically, it amounts to the same thing.     

It’s no surprise to me that SiriusXM is in trouble, losing subscribers and (apparently) dead in the water right now. Reportedly, the company nearly went bankrupt in 2009 before Liberty Media Corp. bought 40 percent of the company for $530 million.

Listeners – and I am one – want to be supportive but it’s hard to feel happy about being force-fed commercials on pay-for-service radio, being double-billed for the same content you’ve already paid for, having to subsidize content you have zero interest in and deal with the aggravating technical problems that for all its faults don’t plague “free” radio.

I think SiriusXM could right itself and maybe even make some money if it figured out a way to get rid of most of the pushy commercials it currently loads up its talk/news/entertainment channels with, let people buy only the programming they wanted on an a la carte basis – and merged their channels into a single menu from which people could pick and choose – rather than maintaining XM on the one hand and Sirius on the other.

That would be in keeping with the Libertarian promise of satellite radio – in contrast to the bureaucratized, DMV-like mess it has turned out to be.

Throw it in the Woods?

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I think sirius xm is just stupid, its not a need its only a want!, just like cable tv, I have been listing to FM radio most of life and I have to say its great, the trick is to find a station you like, I drove from FL to WA state and back listing to FM the whole trip and its fun to find local radio in the cites you drive through, come on people what do you think we did before XM came out? did the old flip of the FM and AM Dial, the good old way. I will pay for my local FM NPR Station, that’s all!

    • I agree, Brad.

      Now, if they had something comparable to AppleTV… are you familiar with that?

      One-time (and fairly modest, about $100) fee for the little box – and after that, you pick and choose what you want (much of it free) and the rest a la carte. No being pigeonholed into buying packages that include a bunch of stuff you have no interest in to get the 1 or 2 things you do want.

  2. I haven’t listened to radio for 7 years now. Only cds in my car. No radio at home. Again, just cds or music from my computer. 2 reasons prompted this change for the better: tremendously stupid djs talking halfway through the songs, and the acquisition by the stations of my 20 most hated songs, of which I could hear at least 17 of them during my morning and evening commutes. Now with my cd player, I play only the music I want to hear. So much more fun to drive, even with the thugs in blue on the prowl for extortions from law abiding motorists like myself.

  3. When I contacted Sirius to add a second reciever I was shocked to learn their Multi Radio Discount was still going to cost me $110 + “fees”! I have two cars, each with it’s own radio. I can only be in one at a time and they want to charge another $110+ a year for the second car. The website and on-line chat representative DO offer another solution … Purchase a portable receiver and move it back and forth. Wow, now that’s technology at it’s best.
    I have satelite TV and additional recievers are $8. Wake up Sirius or you’re going to be the next failed technology. What a shame (and sham).

  4. Wow, I’m not alone out there. I’ve noticed everything you’ve mentioned in this article on satilite radio. I am an XM subscriber and I have to wonder why. When I was driving a truck over the road it made some sense but now I reside it NYC and access to great talkradio on the AM dial (commercials and all). The commercals are so obnoxious I can not even beguin to describe how much. I have to believe that it is only that the country is standing at a political crossroads and those of us who are aware of it are hanging on the radios every word, that the content must be so compelling that the audence is willing to be exposed to that commercial screed. I have nothing against commerce or business advertizing except when they abuse their audence and I have to belive that they know exactly what they are doing. I think the commercials are intentionally designed to vex the listener and to annoy the listener to the point where he/she associates some emotion with the product or service. I think most people don’t even realize it. If they repeat their phone number 5 and 6 times and what about that kid singing that awful song about cars? I think that commercal is soley responsible for more ill will twards children that “trick or treat for UNICEF”! And what about “Hey Jack your hair’s on fire” AAGH! Satilite radio, is very frustrating because has the potental to be so much more. I suspect that the media elites don’t what it to become what it can be and are happy to retard it’s development with intenional poor decisions and lousy programing. As a driver I am interested in trucking news and there is a channel for that but it seems to be off the air half the time or programming with some young hip DJ types trying to entertain old drivers on call in radio. When I was on the road I was at work driving at all hours of the day and I don’t understand why the trucking channel is ever off the air. I would like to get rid of most of the music and sports but I would pay a premium to have news and commentary without commercals. I almost canceled my service on day when my reciver expired, died, or broke at anyrate it stopped working. I din’t listen a for a few weeks till a new one I selected was delivered and then they wanted to charge me to activate my replacement reciver. I was angry and that was obvious from my tone of voice. I reminded them that I’m not currently working over the road and access to lots of talkradio (free with commercals anyway) and internet and that if they charged me to activate this unit I was going to cancel my subscription, well they didn’t charge me. Some trucks where I used to work had xm and sirius installed at the factory except the co did not subscribe so I could hear some satilite free Programing which was at the time “Potus O8” (as much of it as I could stand) while driving at work. It always seemed to me that it would have been nice if I could have Via computer or smartphone simply transferred my subscripion to the radio in that truck for the duration of my shift and I could have but I’m sure it would have came with a prohibitive activation fee and again to swithch back. I never downloaded the app for my blackberry because there is another fee for that

    • I’m probably going to cancel my subscription. I got it about three years ago as a gift from my wife (I like Howard Stern) but apparently he’s leaving. I’m not interested in most of the other programming and the stuff that I am interested in (talk radio) is literally 40-50 percent commercials and I’m at my limit.

      I’d get rid of our cable TV for the same reason – but my wife likes her crime shows…. !

      I agree that satellite has tremendous potential, but the way it’s set up now is becoming unendurable.

      I would bet that they could make as much or more money by offering commercial-free content at a higher monthly rate. I’d happily pay twice what I am paying now to not have to listen to shyster ads in 10 minute blocks for every 10 minutes of programming!

      PS: Welcome to the site; if you like the stuff you see, please tell others to check us out. Thanks!

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