How Does Satellite Radio Work?
For decades, to listen to radio entertainment, you had two choices: AM radio and FM radio. But in the last few years, an entirely new way to listen to radio has emerged. Satellite radio is now available, in a digital audio format, for subscription through two services in the US - XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.
Programming is provided by satellite, not from local radio broadcasting towers. This means that these services can reach the entire country, accessing a tremendous audience. So rather than listening to music or news on your local radio station, you are receiving national broadcasting - similar to what you have been experiencing with home entertainment television for decades. And many of the music entertainment channels on satellite radio are actually live radio - not everything is pre-recorded.
However, these new services are not free. Broadcast radio has been supported through advertising. It is reported that on broadcast radio, as much as 18 minutes of each hour are taken up by advertisements. Satellite digital radio, on the other hand, is based on subscribers paying to listen to the radio in this format. Just as cable and satellite television have changed the way we watch TV, satellite radio will do the same for our radios.
XM Radio has two satellites (named XM 'Rock' and XM 'Roll') and Sirius has three. These satellites are stationed above the US, beaming the radio signal almost everywhere in the country. And there are multiple terrestrial repeaters that enhance the signal and provide service where the satellite signal could be blocked by natural or man-made features. This way whenever you want to listen to a song or a traffic report, it will be available on your satellite radio.
The signals provided by these services are high quality, digital audio format. Therefore, the sound you can receive will be far superior to broadcast radio, depending on your receiver equipment.
Is satellite radio for you?
If you listen to music or talk and news radio a significant amount of the time during your day, either in your car, at work, or at home, this may be a service to consider. If you are always looking for more specific types of radio content - such as ESPN Radio, BBC Radio, FOX News Radio or FOX Sports Radio, satellite radio may be right for you. The monthly cost of $12.95/month from both XM Radio and Sirius is lower than what is typically spent on cable/satellite television. In addition, you will need to purchase a receiver for satellite radio, and those cost around $100 and more. See our cost section for more details.
The selection of programming is tremendous. You can receive over 60 channels of music and over 50 channels of talk, news, sports, weather, and traffic. No broadcast market provides that level of diversity. Check out our Channels section. And although you will be paying a monthly fee for the service, it comes in a commercial-free format and you can even listen online to these radio stations.