Techno Files...with Riley Gay
Satellite radio: sweet music to your ears

Music radio has sure changed over the last several decades. In the old days of strictly AM radio, a loyal listener had to endure over-amped, blathering DJs and a veritable flood of advertising just to hear a 20-song playlist, continually replayed over the entire listening day.

Then, blessedly, FM radio came along and the landscape changed to one of more varied and eclectic music, hosted by mellow, velvet-voiced DJs, and almost no commercial breaks.

But as all things must change, so too has FM.

Now FM radio is the place where chat-happy DJs play endlessly repeating 20-song playlists, punctuated regularly with commercial after commercial.

And, since the vast majority of radio stations are owned by only a handful of big media conglomerates, you’re guaranteed to find the same cookie-cutter stations wherever you go.

“So,” you ask, “what now?” Satellite radio is what.

If you’re already familiar with satellite TV, the principle’s the same: Park a satellite (or two) above North America and bounce signals off it to subscribers across the U.S.

Two companies, Sirius (www.sirius.com) and XM (www.xmradio.com), have been doing just that for a few years now, boasting an ever-growing legion of loyal subscribers.

Each features more than 130 channels of music, sports, news and entertainment, commercial free, and the sound quality of satellite radio is nothing short of spectacular.

Best of all, a road trip with satellite radio installed in your car can be a real pleasure. Travel anywhere in the country and you’ll get the same clear signal that you get at home, without static or interruption.

For that matter, you don’t even have to be in your car to enjoy satellite radio. Many car satellite receivers can, with an added adapter, be used inside the home, as well.

While the technology used by XM and Sirius to deliver their signals may be similar, there are some real differences to consider when choosing a satellite service provider.

One obvious distinction is in the cost of subscribing: $12.95 a month for Sirius vs. $9.99 a month for XM.

Perhaps more important, though, is the difference in programming offered by the two companies. Each has content not offered by the other and that, depending on your particular tastes, will likely be the deciding factor in just which service you choose.

For example, if you’re a hard-core Elvis fan, Sirius is the only one with a channel dedicated entirely to The King. For Sinatra devotees, “Frank’s Place” on XM features a never-ending playlist of Ol’ Blue Eyes favorites.

Sports fans will have to go with Sirius to get their NFL fix, while XM has signed with MLB to offer both spring training and regular-season baseball.

Both offer a wide variety of music channels and, though Sirius seems to lean more toward the younger audience, you’re bound to find a lot to listen to with either one.

Once you’ve decided on a service provider, you’ll need a receiver to pick up the signal.

The easiest solution, of course, is to get it preinstalled when you buy your car. Many manufacturers are making either XM or Sirius available as an affordable option on new vehicles.

Not in the market for a new car? Then visit just about any big electronics retailer, such as Best Buy, Circuit City or Fry’s Electronics, and get the lowdown on adding a receiver to your existing car stereo system. There are several available starting at well under $200, with some as low as $100.

For the ultimate in portability, check out Delphi’s MyFi portable satellite receiver. Just released for XM, MyFi not only works in your car and at home, but also can be toted around in your pocket so you can enjoy your satellite radio on the go.

Note that if you’re intrigued by the idea of MyFi, be prepared to stand in line or get very lucky. Places like Best Buy at Fiesta Mall say they’re selling out within hours after a new shipment arrives.

And if you’re still looking for that perfect last-minute gift for the music lover in your family, or are thinking about getting your own Satellite Radio system, both XM and Sirius are offering some tempting deals for the holidays.

Anyway you look at it, satellite radio is an idea whose time has come.

Tired of boring old FM?  Upgrading to satellite could just be the cure for your radio blues.