My Satellite Radio Jones

I love all radio, but my heart belongs to satellite

I have always been a radio junky. When I was younger, my fix was Seventies gold from my mother's clock radio and archived recordings of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Micro-stations and AM talk kept me well-fed through my 20s.

Now, it's satellite radio.

For a true junky, there's no better fix. Many people I know think this is daffy – why, they ask, would you pay for something you can already have for free – the same quizzical wondering that accompanied the arrival of cable television in the Seventies. The answer is simple: Satellite radio is better. Don't get me wrong, I still listen to local radio; among my favorite local stations is 88.7 KAZI, like my home-growing colleague Rachel Proctor May. The difference is that instead of an hour of reggae or lounge tunes, sat-radio gives me 24/7 reggae and lounge, along with some 60-plus additional commercial-free music channels. With satellite radio you can listen, track to track to track, without car dealers yelling at you or the plague of chain-restaurant jingles. From the sometimes painful, sometimes blissful sounds of unsigned artists (XM Channel 52), to a brace of songs from homegrown Austin artists (featured consistently on Channel 12), to jam bands and live performances on XM Music Lab (Channel 51), to old-school hip-hop on the Rhyme (Channel 65).

On satellite, I can isolate what I don't want to hear from what I do want to hear – I roll the dice instead of waiting to see what the deejay will throw.

But XM Radio – and its competitor, Sirius (the only companies currently licensed to operate sat-radio) – is more than just music. In addition, sat-radio offers a diverse assortment of news and entertainment feeds. This is great if, like me, you're into talk radio, but find the local offerings one-sided and, generally, pathetic.

Since the introduction of sat-radio – born in the Nineties, launched in 2001 – the nascent companies have been involved in a tug-of-war for industry dominance. Sirius signed a $100 million contract with Howard Stern and also broadcasts the NFL; XM snagged former NPR morning host Bob Edwards to anchor their public radio channel with an original one-hour talk show, and carries NASCAR and baseball. Sat-radio's growth – and, therefore, market success – may also depend on how things pan out with deals that each company has with auto-makers (Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, GM, and Toyota) to include sat-radio as standard and/or add-on equipment in new models.

Ultimately, the competition benefits listeners (in the five months I've had the service, XM has loaded nearly a dozen new channels), because with satellite radio what really counts is diversity and freedom. Although seemingly oxymoronic, it is the dizzying freedom the subscription service offers that makes sat-radio so tantalizingly attractive. Sat-radio is completely removed from the broadcast world, where one nipple triggered an avalanche of specious moral righteousness. Instead of the feds deciding what I can listen to and when I can listen to it, I decide. And there's just something so right about driving with the windows down on a sunny day while listening to completely uncut and uncensored standup bits from local comedian Tom Hester (XM Comedy Channel 150) – expletives, sexual innuendo, and all.

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satellite radio, XM Radio, Phil Hendrie, Sirius, Tom Hester, Howard Stern, Bob Edwards

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