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XM radio: more than just AM, FM

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by Rebecca Cooper
Arts & Entertainment Editor

No more censorship. No more annoying commercials. No more irritating static. No more fading signal at the county or state border.

Welcome to the world of satellite radio, where you actually have control over the sounds coming out of your speakers and entering your ears – whenever you want and wherever you want it.

“We have real DJ’s and programmers who put a lot of thought and personality into the channels,” said Allen Goldberg, spokesman for XM Satellite Radio. “Our channels are interactive, and we have fully-formed relationships with our listeners. We let them help shape the programming through their calls and e-mails.”

The new satellite radio technology offers listeners more than 70 commercial-free channels of music, including various pop, rock, country, hip-hop, dance, jazz and international stations. There are also more than 30 channels of news, sports and entertainment, including CNBC, CNN Headline News, BBC, NASCAR Radio, E! Entertainment Radio and the Weather Channel.

“I was looking at the Best Buy ads this weekend, and when I saw how compact and affordable the satellite radio receivers are now, I really want to buy one,” said Mike Laponis, professor of communications. “I just might buy one and start taking it into my radio classes to listen to.”

The two satellite radio providers that currently offer subscription services in the United States are XM Satellite Radio and Sirius. Activation for XM service is $14.99 on the phone, or $9.99 online. Monthly service is then $9.99 a month for unlimited use. Sirius radio is $12.95 for activation and then $12.95 for each addition month.

“We are about to pass the one-half million subscribers and are on track to have one million this fall,” Goldberg said. “We are improving by always thinking about how we can provide better, more innovative programming. We are also bringing out a number of more affordable receivers as the year goes on.”

The lack of affordable receivers has made it difficult to sell satellite radio to many college students. Car satellite radio tuners for radios that are already satellite radio compatible sell for $200 to $400, and XM antennas sell for $50 to $200. Compatible in-dash radios sell for $170 to $1,000.

XM has deals with General Motors, Infinity, Isuzu, Nissan and Volkswagen/Audi to put XM compatible stereos in most of their 2003 models. Aston Martin, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Jeep and Hertz Rental Cars have agreed to put Sirius ready radios in many of their 2003 vehicles.

Satellite radio home packages sell for $200 to $400 and “on-the-go” receivers sell for $225 to $400.

The second biggest problem facing the two satellite providers is that Sirius and XM are not compatible, meaning if you have a Sirius satellite receiver, you cannot receive XM satellite service.

“It hasn’t even proven itself yet, because it is a very new technology and there are still technological advancements being worked out,” Laponis said. “Some people don’t think it will catch on at all, but a lot more people are now catching on and subscribing.”

Traditional radio is broadcast using analog radio waves that can only travel about 30 to 40 miles from their source, but the new digital satellite radio comes from signals more than 22,000 miles above Earth.

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