Sep 072005
Authors: Jess Brooke

Here's to you, music junkie. The cost of your CD collection exceeds the blue book value of your car. The 10,000 songs a 40GB iPod holds is simply not enough. You've spent more time camping out in ticket lines than in the woods. I feel your pain.

And now there's satellite radio to consider. Radio has disappointed in the past; droning commercials and obnoxious disc jockeys as the only interruptions to the same 10 songs played on a constant rotation.

Satellite radio promises commercial-free radio. In fact, the XM Radio Web site claims, "One hundred percent commercial-free music, over 30 channels of news, sports, talk and entertainment, over 20 dedicated channels of XM Instant Traffic and Weather, and the deepest playlist in the industry with access to over two million titles!"

Sounds impressive, but how different is satellite radio from the free stuff? I put XM and local radio stations through a series of rigorous tests to see which would come out on top. Here are the results:


When XM claims, "100 percent commercial-free," it means no advertisers pay XM to put their commercials on the air. However, house ads, or commercials for XM are common. You'll hear commercials for other XM stations, the XM Web site, XM products and family plans after every few songs.

Free radio relies on advertisers to stay on the air because listeners don't pay for operating costs. This means commercials for listeners. Yes, commercials are annoying and they interrupt the music, but they can also be informative. New restaurants and stores advertise on local radio. Bottom line, I would rather hear commercials from local advertisers than how I can save money with XM's family plan.

Channel 93.3 in Denver often plays commercials one or two at a time. This means commercials are being played more frequently, but there is less commercial time between songs.

The winner: tie

Variety & New Music

Nothing ruins a song faster than hearing it a bazillion times. How many times have you heard Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"? How many times have you wanted to throw your radio out the window? Free radio stations are often guilty of playing the same songs several times a day, typically the Billboard Top 20.

XM has its own top 20 station. This provides a station for listeners who are taking a break from the "NOW That's What I Call Music #42" CD and allows other stations to play lesser known tracks.

Local station 99.9 The Point plays a new song every night at 6. XM has a station consisting solely of unsigned artists. However, both 99.9 and 93.3 were playing Denver band, The Fray, long before the band's signing to Epic records.

With over 150 stations, XM is able to categorize genres more specifically. There are stations that play only punk, metal, 80s rock, reggae, classical, movie soundtracks, the list goes on. More stations simply mean less repetition.

The winner: XM


After initial installation costs, an XM subscription runs $12.95 a month for the first radio and $6.99 for each additional radio, up to four. To make your stereo capable of receiving satellite radio can cost from $49.99 (Delphi XM Roady 2) to $299.99 (Delphi XM MyFi). The cost is similar for Sirius satellite radio receivers.

The winner: Free radio


One of the benefits of XM is that it's satellite linked so you can't drive out of a tower's reception area. This is great when you're in the stretch of Interstate 25 where stations slip into oblivion, but it won't do any good driving through Poudre Canyon where reception is finicky at best.

There are also "dead" areas around town were static will override the music momentarily. Stereos that are satellite radio ready will have the clearest reception because the receiver plugs directly in. Other stereos need a receiver with an FM modulator. Both the stereo and the receiver must be tuned to the same unused frequency for XM to transmit.

A major downfall of the FM modulator is that as you drive from city to city, vacant stations will be different and you will need to retune everything to get clear reception.

The winner: XM, barely

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