Nearly 45 years ago, stereo broadcasts were added to the FM band. Since then, radio has been getting staler and staler, replaced by television, the Internet and portable electronics. Today's homogenized playlists only add to the dial's dreariness. But salvation may have arrived with the Canadian launch of two satellite radio services that have had mixed success in the U.S.
Satellite radio, which beams digital signals directly from a satellite to specialized receivers, seems like a good deal. The sound quality is as crisp and clear as a CD, and there are no annoying commercials on music stations. Better still, there's programming to suit just about anyone's taste. But is satellite radio so good that you would fork over at least $156 plus tax a year, in addition to $20 in activation fees and hardware costs (starting at about $70) for something that's been free since, well, forever?
Even a skeptic has to be impressed with what's on offer. XM Satellite Radio has the lowest price ($12.99 a month) and the best hardware. Particularly good is the Delphi XM MyFi ($400), a portable receiver that has an elegant channel dial, easy-to-read display, and a button pad that the clumsiest of fingers can navigate. Think of it as the iPod of satellite radios.
Sirius Satellite Radio has the most channels, is waiving the $20 activation fee for the first 50,000 subscribers and has the best deal: a lifetime subscription for $550. Starmate ($100), the Sirius unit we tested on a road trip, has a remote for selecting channels. But it's tough to watch the road with one eye on the remote and the other on the mounted display.
Ultimately, which service you select will likely come down to programming. A personal fave was Little Steven's Underground Garage on Sirius, which showcases the Bruce Springsteen sideman's love of garage rock. Others may find comfort on the Starbucks channel (Hear Music on XM), thrills on NFL Radio (Sirius) or cool Canadian tunes on CBC Radio 3 (Sirius). Until I spend more time in the car or at home listening to radio, I'm going to sit on my thumbs and give my vinyl records another spin.
Options: Sky Wars
XM Satellite Radio
Channels: 80, including eight Cancon stations
Auto partners: General Motors
Sirius Satellite Radio
Channels: 100, including 10 Cancon stations
Auto partners: Ford, Chrysler, BMW and many others