Listening to the radio on long car drives gives me a headache. It's not the tunes or the news that makes me feverish; it's those inane ads...
Listening to the radio on long car drives gives me a headache. It’s not the tunes or the news that makes me feverish; it’s those inane ads that never cease. I keep hoping for longer music breaks because radio can be a great medium for discovering new artists and new songs, but the abundance of advertising ruins it for me.
Alternatively, I could record Internet radio shows and podcasts on a computer and transfer them to an MP3 player for listening in the car or elsewhere (Getting Started, July 16). They’re typically commercial free, but that option requires doing more than pressing the radio’s “on” button.
There is another alternative: satellite radio. It comes with a subscription fee, but there are many channels to choose from and Sirius Satellite Radio, for instance, says it has “100 percent commercial-free music.”
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I’ve thought about trying satellite radio before, but that was when it came installed only in luxury cars. Now, it’s available via independent devices that can be plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter or in an outlet at home or in a boat.
I decide to try it and make arrangements to borrow a Sirius Starmate unit ($100) with a subscription ($13 per month) enabling me to play 120 channels — 65 of music and 55 of news, weather, traffic, talk shows and sports.
The Starmate car kit comes with the radio, antenna, mounting device and remote controller. I take these to my car, place the magnetic antenna on top of the car and string the wire in through the passenger window to the radio. (The more permanent setup involves running the wire though the trunk and along the floor to the radio.) Then I stick the mounting-device suction cup on the dashboard and attach the radio.
I turn on the radio and call a number to activate programming. After providing numbers off the box and identification information, the woman on the phone has me turn on my car radio and match an FM station with the same number on the Starmate so I can listen to Sirius programming through the car’s radio.
Nothing happens over the first few tries and finally she asks if I’m parked under trees. Affirmative, so she suggests I repark. After some fiddling, I manage to match the numbers and hear satellite radio.
With installation and activation complete, I take the radio for a little drive. My street is lined with leafy trees, so the reception is not good for a few minutes.
Reaching a sunny street, I surf the music channels looking for songs I like, but I’m not having much luck.
Later, my 20-something daughter drives with me and picks different channels that do have some tunes I like. I hadn’t tried the pop channels, but that’s where Green Day and Kelly Clarkson, for example, seem to be located.
My daughter tells me she’s going with a friend on a short car/camping trip and asks to bring the Starmate along. I agree, if she’ll report back on what she learns, likes and dislikes about the satellite system.
Her report: She begins with the conclusion first — it’s not quite worth $13 a month, at least not for what she wants in a radio (and on her budget).
What’s good is there are quite a few music channels she likes, but even on her favorites, the range of music is wide and moves in and out of her taste, so she often ends up surfing the dial after one or two songs.
What’s not good is there are ads on nonmusic channels, plus the sound cuts off going through tunnels and very shaded areas. Listening to her iPod in the car is a better solution for her, she says.
She adds that for people who listen to a lot of news or sports, Sirius could be worth the cost. It offers programming from BBC, NPR, CNN and ESPN, and covers live games of the NFL, NBA and NHL.
Sirius comments: Regarding reception, Jim Collins, Sirius vice president of corporate communications, says satellite radio requires line of sight with an area of the sky where the satellites are located, or proximity to a repeater. Signals can be blocked by tunnels or, in some cases, heavy foliage. Faulty installation can also affect reception. For the most part, he says, reception problems are few.
Regarding ads, Collins says music channels have no ads, but there are ads on talk shows, though fewer than on regular radio.
My conclusion: The more I explore Sirius programming, the more I find that I like. As an alternative to traditional AM/FM radio, satellite radio is easier to use than downloading Internet radio shows and podcasts to an MP3 player and listening to them through the car radio (using an adapter such as the Griffin iTrip or SmartDeck for the iPod). Still, you might want to try both.
Test drive satellite radio at a store that sells it (Car Toys, Radio Shack, Kmart, Office Depot — call first, some have a system set up for listening; others do not).
You can try listening to Internet radio and podcasts from your computer by downloading iTunes and selecting from both directories by clicking Podcasts or Radio on the Source list.
No solution is best for everybody — you’ll have to decide whether traditional AM/FM radio, satellite radio, or Internet radio and podcasts offer the best listening experience for you.