Satellite Radio

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Satellite Radio

This is Celia Hirschman with KCRW for On the Beat.

When I first heard about satellite radio, I was skeptical. I had been disappointed for many years by especially dull sounding commercial radio. And since satellite radio was being developed by some of the kingpins of commercial radio, I thought why should this new delivery system be any different from the commercial radio I already know? I was wrong.

Satellite radio is different.

XM and Sirrius are the two national satellite radio networks, with fixed antennas in the sky, bringing multiple channels of radio programming into homes, cars and offices throughout America. What makes this particularly interesting is the enormous entertainment range of the two networks.

On XM, for instance, there are over 68 channels of music. There are 15 different radio channels just for rock music, each channel with its own specialty of rock. Country has 7 channels and most of the other music genres have equally impressive depth of musical vision. XM's competitor, Sirrius, also has compelling music programming with similar kinds of channels geared to particular tastes. So whatever you want - whether it's jazz fusion, hip hop, reggae, show tunes, chamber music, European hits, new music, pop, classical or blues, the satellite networks have channels built especially for you.

In addition to the extraordinary depth of music programming, specialty programming has been created with a high degree of intelligence as well. Sirius offers a wide spectrum of news and information from CNBC, Bloomberg, ABC News, PRI, NPR, C-Span, CNN and many more. You won't hear NPR's Morning Edition or All Things Considered on satellite radio. You'll need to stay tuned to your favorite NPR station for that. But Sirrius also offers talk shows like Sirius Left, Sirius Right and Talk Central--three different channels, each with their own political points of view for listeners to cheer or rail at. Add to that entertainment channels, religious channels, self help channels, sports channels, and the list goes on and on. XM offers some of these programming choices as well. And both networks offer children's programming, weather, comedy, and even a channel dedicated to truckers for those long drives around the country.

Sirius' music programming is commercial free and XM's will also be by February.

Of course, all this specialty programming and freedom of choice does have a price and it comes in the form of a monthly fee. Costs for XM are $9.99, while Sirrus is $12.95. You can set up satellite radio in your home, office or car. Both services require a special piece of equipment, which is available online or at select electronics stores.

Satellite radio is probably the most interesting concept happening in radio in this century.

With conglomerates like Clear Channel and Infinity programming their radio to meet broad demographics, it is interesting to see the satellite networks trying a very different approach. They are gearing their programming to the needs of the consumers and generating their revenue from a monthly subscription model. If it works financially in the long run, I expect Americans will see a lot more creative programming coming out of this new medium.

This is Celia Hirschman with KCRW for On the Beat.