Satellite Radio

The Advent of Satellite Radio

            In 1992, XM Radio and Sirius Radio invested in the new Digital Audio Radio Service bandwidths that had been set aside for the emerging medium of satellite radio. These two companies each spent over $80 million for their licenses (“History of Satellite Radio”). After nearly ten years in development for the various user technologies and equipment, building the satellites, and all manner of research, XM Radio went online with their first satellite (called “Rock”) on March 18, 2001, and the second (“Roll”) in May 8 of the same year. Sirius Radio launched their 3 satellites in November 3, 2001, only a few months after their XM counterparts (Bonsor).
These two companies provided satellite radio coverage for the entire North American continent for the next several years, until 2007 when they announced that, in the midst of increasing amounts of debt for both companies, they would be merging to form “Sirius XM Radio” (Bonsor).  This merger became official in 2008. The two companies still operate semi-separately in that they each offer their own services for $12.95 per month with a “Best of” pack of additional stations from the other provider. In other words, XM Radio subscribers receive all of XM’s stations for a monthly price and have the option to supplement this with the most popular stations from Sirius and vice versa (Bonsor). The cost of subscriptions and expansion stations are the same for either provider. Together, they offer over 170 different channels of ultra-high quality radio programming with virtually no loss in quality from the studios (Borade).
A diagram of how XM Radio works
Satellite radio works in a similar way to traditional radio in the sense that radio waves are sent from the broadcasting station and that they eventually are received by customers at the other end, but the rest of the process in between is completely different. Signals are all sent from the radio provider’s headquarters but instead of broadcasting to all the receivers in given radius, the signal is sent to the satellite system which is then transmitted back to the ground. XM uses a two satellite system with two backup satellites and an extensive system of repeaters on the ground that simultaneously broadcast to all the receivers in reach. This system, along with a few seconds of additional buffer time stored on the individual receiver, ensures that the receivers are in range of the signal at all times (Bonsor). Sirius uses a three satellite system in which each satellite is directly over the United States for at least 16 hours each day and at least one is over the U.S. at all times. The elliptical orbits also provide a higher angle for transmitting to receivers. This system allows for an equally ubiquitous signal while utilizing fewer repeater stations on the ground (How Satellite Radio Works).
One of many consumer options for
satellite radio receivers.
The required customer equipment is similar to a radio, but again, not exactly the same. Currently, add-in satellite radio receivers used to update an existing car or home stereo system are not capable of also picking up traditional radio frequencies, but many car manufacturers are including them along with traditional systems integrated into the design of the car (Brown 1-6). Originally, the units required for picking up satellite radio were rather large and unwieldy as well as extremely expensive. As with most technologies, however, the cost has gone down dramatically in the past few years. What once cost upwards of $400 just for a receiver, now cost as little as $24.99 (after mail-in rebate). Receivers today are also capable of providing satellite radio service in the car, at home, and anywhere else, as the receivers are portable and pocket-sized, and have headphones jacks for personal use (Bonsor). This extreme functionality coupled with the crystal clear reception provided by the high-quality transmissions make satellite radio and ideal next step for those who currently enjoy traditional radio.
One of the main differences is that while traditional radio is free for anyone with a receiver to hear, satellite radio signals are scrambled so that not only must you have a specialized receiver, a monthly subscription, as was previously referenced, is also required. This may be a downside at first, but given the fact that that means there are little to no advertisements, and no more than seven minutes of them per hour at the very most, this may be a fair trade for those who hate advertisements.
Just like its counterparts in television and internet, radio has stepped into the 21st century by stepping into space. Satellites are, in a sense, fast becoming just as much a consumer good as any of their previous uses. This new form of radio has the capability of perhaps completely supplanting the traditional methods of radio broadcast. Satellite radio has more channels, more variety, clearer sound, wider reception range, clearer sound, and fewer advertisements. And, given the model of radio, some customers have the option of taking their radio from their car stereo, plugging in head phones, and continuing their journey on foot without a moment’s interruption in their favorite station. This kind of superior functionality seems destined to replace traditional radio, and it still may, but as for now, traditional radio has one thing that satellite radio doesn’t: the local talk shows and radio disc jockeys that make their own area’s radio unique. While satellite radio does re-broadcast many things from traditional radio, such as news bulletins and sports events, there is currently no satellite radio integration with traditional radio, meaning that two separate receivers are still necessary to switch from nationally broadcast satellite radio and local programming. Local disc jockeys have the option of playing local unsigned artists that have little to no chance of being heard on satellite radio as well as the ability to give listeners weather and traffic reports for their own area. This personalization in radio is one of the main things that are keeping traditional radio still a widespread method of transmitting and receiving broadcasts.
One of XM's satellite radio dishes.
In the future, it is likely that satellite radio will develop some method of either incorporating local radio or somehow one-upping it, to give itself a total advantage over traditional radio and thus becoming the standard on radio broadcast. What this will mean for traditional radio is not clear, but what can be sure is that, whatever happens, it will happen in crystal-clear HD sound.
Works Cited
Bonsor, Kevin. "How Satellite Radio Works.", 2011. Web. 15 Apr 2011. <>.

Borade, Gaynor. "History of Satellite Radio." Buzzle., 2011. Web. 16 Apr 2011. <>.

Brown, Damon. The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Satellite Radio. New York, NY: Alpha, 2006. 1-6. eBook.

"The History of Satellite Radio." LEFT, Inc., 2011. Web. 17 Apr 2011. <>.

"How Satellite Radio Works." HighSpeedSat, 2005. Web. 15 Apr 2011. <>.

Parker, Ava L. "The Future of Satellite Radio."Broadband & Social Justice. Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, 28 Nov 2010. Web. 17 Apr 2011. <>.