Why I Think XM Sirius Satellite Radio Service Is A Waste Of Money
Published 3/24/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
When I bought my new 2004 Honda Accord a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it came with a free 3 month trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio. Back then, the premium service was considered quite a must-have premium car feature. At the time there was nothing quite like having more than a hundred radio stations at my listening disposal whenever I drove my car. The great benefit and advantage that satellite radio had over conventional radio was that no matter where you were in the country, so long as your receiver-equipped vehicle had an unobstructed view of the sky, you were ensured a guaranteed selection of listening stations at all times. Not only did I have access to the usual radio music choices, but I could also listen to a wide variety of talk radio and television news programs such as CNN and CNBC. One of the best technical features with on board satellite radio was also the ability to know the names of artists and songs currently being played. All of the song information was digitally displayed on the XM radio player dashboard. This function was great because it complimented my hobby of downloading MP3 music from the internet. Every time I heard a song I liked, I could look to see the name of the song and download it later when I got home.
Cost and Lack Of Use Are The Reasons Why I Don' t Think Paid Satellite Radio Service Is Worth It
Back when I had the complimentary trial period, XM radio's monthly subscription fee was only $9.95. However over the years the price has steadily increased to its present $12.95. When my free trial period ended, I continued paying the monthly fee. But after a while, I realized it was just a money drain. I was a student at the time, used the car infrequently, and drove for only short stints in mostly local areas when I did. The service was much too underused to justify the monthly subscription. It's not that I was overly frugal about paying for monthly services - in fact I had a whole slew of monthly subscription services like cable and internet. However, one simply cannot compare the necessity of home cable or satellite television service to a radio feature that is only used when driving. While over the years, XM has adapted and ported its service into portable hand head Ipod-like players, I still fail to see the necessity for the paid service when viable free alternatives are available.
Satellite Radio Doesn't Currently Offer Enough Locally Based Radio Programming Selections
When I drive, I have a narrow selection of music that I like to listen to, which is why I usually prefer to burn my own music mix CD's. If XM radio offered the premium ability to create my own customizable radio station comprised of specific music artists I like without the fillers, the service might be worth it. However, after listening to hours of premium satellite radio, I realized that much of the premium music selections were the same played to death re-runs churned out by free local radio stations, fillers and all. Despite having so many channels and stations, the majority of the programming choices were ones I had no interest in such as country, rock, and weird selections that played bluegrass and elevator music.
Another major disadvantage of satellite radio is that it doesn't offer the same comparable local commentary and local presence provided by traditional regional radio stations. I think I've grown too accustomed to the localized nature of traditional free radio. When there is some significant local breaking news, winter weather report, or major traffic accident, regular radio stations will interrupt the music programming to issue an up to date report. However, satellite radio stations, due to their national presence, tend to stick to national rather than local news. Even though XM Radio is based in Washington D.C., it is no exception. They do offer a wide channel selection of regional traffic and weather news categorized by locale, but you have to actually remain tuned to the appropriate city's satellite station to receive continuous local traffic and weather news updates, which is an inconvenience.
I think both Sirius and XM Radio are paid options better suited for truck drivers or those who frequently travel across state lines for business or leisure. If you primarily intend to use the service in-state and within the same local area, there is really no need or benefit gained with having the service. Of course, if you simply have a lot of money on your hands, then by all means go right on ahead and pay for the premium service as it's an occasionally nifty option to have.
The Novelty Of Satellite Radio Will Wear Off And Will Ultimately Be Replaced By Improved Free Radio Options
The concept of paid radio will continue to lose popularity with the adoption of car radio technology such as HD radio, as well as Wi-Fi and WiMax streaming audio. HD radio currently offers high quality radio feeds that can provide many of the text display functionalities offered by existing satellite radio but with the added local touch. It has the bigger potential to open up a huge range of new radio features and stations for consumers. HD radio is free but its adoption will take time since it requires the purchase and installation of new HD radio players. In time I predict most new cars will come pre-equipped with HD radio receivers.
Wi-Fi and WiMax radio are similar in that they both entail the function of listening to streaming radio through the internet, except you are doing it in your car. As Wi-Fi hotspots become more broadly available and WiMax technology is improved, the day will come when most major highways and cities will be equipped with wireless signal repeaters that can enable persons with a wireless internet receiver in their car to access millions of customizable online radio stations.
However in the meantime, other than regular radio, XM and Sirius Radio is all we have currently in the way of alternative options. The U.S. Department of Justice finally cleared the antitrust hurdles and approved the long awaited merger of XM Radio and Sirius. I think the deal is very bad for competition but due to the prevalence of a wide number of competing technologies, the merger was likely necessary for the survival of the satellite radio medium. Personally, I think the appeal and convenience of paid radio will fade with the popularity of cost-free technologies. Until premium radio options become free though, I plan to save my money and be content with the 10 or so complimentary stations that XM seems to have left running on my otherwise deactivated XM radio account. I think XM left those few stations running as a complimentary sampler, however interestingly, many of the sampler stations are ones I would have wanted anyway had I remained a paid XM subscriber.