music

Satellite radio is a sound salvation

It's now available in Canada, and listeners can tune in to just about anything

SHANDA DEZIEL December 12 2005
music

Satellite radio is a sound salvation

It's now available in Canada, and listeners can tune in to just about anything

SHANDA DEZIEL December 12 2005

Satellite radio is a sound salvation

music

It's now available in Canada, and listeners can tune in to just about anything

SHANDA DEZIEL

You may think the last thing you need is another remote control, especially one in your car, but satellite radio might change your mind about that. After just one day of commercial-free dream radio, it seems a necessary risk, even though driving with a new remote-powered radio gadget mounted to the dashboard is distracting and may very well cause a few more accidents.

Flipping through channels on the new SIRIUS service, there’s an interview with Alan Alda on NPR, A Flock of Seagulls on the classic alternative station, Feist on the college radio station, Jerry Lee Lewis’s version of Me and Bobby McGee on Outlaw Country, an audio clip from All in the Family on the allcomedy channel, ’80s funk band Whodini in the R & B section and an interview with a NASCAR winner on SIRIUS Trucker. And that’s just the weird stuff—you’ll find plenty of Rolling Stones, Beatles and Coldplay on all those rock/pop stations. The not-so-old adage, 100 channels and nothing on, doesn’t apply to satellite radio the way it does to cable TV. You could stay on your favourite speciality channel (bluegrass, old-school rap, Elvis, swing, NHL) all day and never get bored, but you might die of curiosity wondering if you’re missing a fave song over on Totally 70s.

After a drawn-out licensing process with the CRTC, satellite services SIRIUS and XM are up and running, and many Canadians are ready to embrace them. Whether tired of 4M mainstream radio or living in remote areas with access to few, if any, stations, people in this country will likely be as willing to pay for variety, imaginative programming and an ad-less musical universe as their neighbours to the south—where there are over seven million subscribers. “I did some radio research prior to the licence appeal process in Grande Prairie, Alta.,” says Ross Davies, programming VP for XM, “and found that 32 per cent

of people there had listened to pay radio, including XM or SIRIUS, in the past week.” And that was when you could only get it illegally through the “grey market” by buying a system in the States and subscribing with a U.S. billing address. Those on the ground floor are confident that satellite radio will eventually be as common—and indispensable—as cable TV.

So the question is not do you want it, but which service should you subscribe to. Both XM ($12.99 a month) and SIRIUS ($14-99) carry U.S. pop and rock stations that span the decades, plus outlets for all the sub-genres within electronic, hip hop, country, classical,

The not-so-old adage,

100 channels and nothing on, doesn't apply to satellite radio the way it does to cable TV

Latin, jazz and blues. The services also offer talk radio for just about everyone, as well as Fox News, CNN and the BBC. When it comes to the Canadian programming, both have French offerings and have focused their English music channels on the domestic indie scene, currently so popular internationally.

SIRIUS has partnered with CBC Radio 3 and hired Sloan band members Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson as weekend hosts. XM is going more for the MuchMusic feel, with visitor-friendly studios in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. But what really sets the two

apart is their sports coverage. XM’s all about hockey, featuring the Home Ice channel, which will run year-round and boasts name hosts like Phil Esposito, Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin. XM also has five play-by-play channels—and starting in the 2007/08 season it will have an exclusive deal with the NHL. SIRIUS, meanwhile, has loaded up its dial. “We have the NFL, a number of NBA games, and Barclays English soccer, Wimbledon and NASCAR all coming to us exclusively,” says Mark Redmond, president of SIRIUS Canada. “I’m a hockey fan, but I’d prefer to watch it on TV.”

For some, the biggest reason to go with SIRIUS is Howard Stern, who moves his show to the satellite network in January. For now, SIRIUS Canada says it won’t be carrying the shock jock—although it promises to revisit the issue when he’s actually on air in the States.

Once the service has been chosen, it’s on to hardware—and that’s where things get confusing. First, it’s necessary to buy a small portable receiver (that usually comes with a car kit) for $70 to $200—and then home-use accessories cost $60 to $130. Seemingly the most convenient, complete system is XM’s Delphi MyFi, which, at $399-99, comes with a receiver, home kit, car kit and earphones. But the SIRIUS Sportster Boombox ($129.99, not including receiver)—which uses batteries or an AC adapter—is a pretty nice toy that can be used in the house or car, or even at a remote campsite. Bet there’s even a rousing version of Kumbaya on the folk channel. M

SHAKIRA AND INXS...HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

I’d like to be the first white hair upon your head / To be your cherry pie, your daily bread / I’ll cook for free / I’ll make your bed / If I can know the things you thought and never said —Shakira’s Hey You.

Looking out my window/At some girl as I’m writing this and/1 watch her eat a peach / The way she’s biting it, biting it/And I probably shouldn’t stare /But I am fighting it, fighting it— INXS’s Hot Girls