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Satellite Radio: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Analysis/Opinion

By

Updated March 06, 2006
If you’re a Satellite Radio subscriber or think you might become one, I’d like to point out 3 things I’ve recently either noticed or read about. All three have the potential of affecting your enjoyment of Satellite Radio.

The Good

XM Satellite Radio has partnered with WLW-AM, Cincinnati and is rebroadcasting this legendary AM radio station on XM channel 173. (Ironically, about two weeks ago a site visitor asked me if they could pick up WTVN-AM in Columbus on Satellite Radio and I told him there weren’t any terrestrial stations being rebroadcast.)

Well, not so anymore - and I hope this is a trend. There truly are great AM and FM radio stations in America that deserve national audiences (aside from an Internet stream). More partnerships like this would provide great programming for Satellite Radio subscribers plus bolster the positions of some excellent terrestrial stations.

This move has similarities not unlike the WTBS story. On December 17, 1976, Ted Turner’s WTBS, Channel 17 in Atlanta, went national on cable television. Turner’s foresight turned a local station on UHF into quite a well respected programming source on cable systems benefitting cable subscribers and Turner’s operation.

Although I believe Satellite Radio’s forte is in niche programming, I also think there’s room for a few more stations with the clout of WLW.

The Bad

I listen to both XM and SIRIUS radio on a regular basis and for music, I usually choose the 60s, 70s, and 80s channels on both services. But, there’s just something I have to get off my chest: why are some of the music programmers programming their channels like they were terrestrial radio stations?

I hear things that make me cringe. For instance: the ‘60s channel on XM starts each regular hour with a Beatles song. This is usually referred to as a “power” song in terrestrial radio. As a subscriber, I hate it in principle that I'm hearing such a formatted presentation on Satellite Radio. I don’t want predictability. I want random. If I wanted predictability, I'd be listening to some free local station.

But, there’s something else that’s bugging me: why do I hear promos on the channel I'm listening to telling me about other channels or upcoming specials on other channels? Folks: I’ve got a channel guide and I get the updated weekly programming guide via email. Oh, and did I mention I’m paying $12.95-a-month? If I wanted to listen to the Broadway channel, I’d be there now! Stop treating me like a child. I don’t need you interrupting the music to tell me what you think I might like.

I take full responsibility for my listening choices and I really don't need your recommendations. Besides: you get your monthly subscription fee no matter what channel I listen to or even if I don't turn it on for a week. It's not like you're going to earn anymore by interrupting my listening to tell me where I can hear Armenian folk music or whatever you're pushing.

The real question is why are some Satellite Radio programmers using the terrestrial radio paradigm to program their music channels? The paradigm they should really be programming against is mp3 players and iPods – where there are no promos, no interruptions, or stagnant music libraries. That’s your real competition.

People who subscribe to Satellite Radio did so because they didn’t like AM and FM. So, then, why program your channels like the ones subscribers left behind?

The Ugly

The greed of the RIAA is showing again.

CDFreaks.com reports: “When it comes to digital radio, the music industry is trying to control it as much as possible, not to mention trying to restrict how its listener's capabilities also. So far, their talks with Sirius Radio Inc. has a long way to go yet, particularly over the issue with Sirius' S50 satellite radio receiver which has the ability to record its broadcasts. Besides trying to enforce restrictions on what consumers try to record, the record labels feel that they are entitled to around 30% of revenue generated from satellite radio.”

If the RIAA gets its way, SIRIUS and XM will be forced to make changes that will affect you – most likely in the way of higher subscription fees. 30% is a substantial chunk of change for two companies that are still losing money. It’s outrageous that the RIAA is posturing with such a heavy demand.

CDFreaks continues, “At present, terrestrial radio broadcast services must pay compulsory rates for the right to play music, however radio companies must negotiate their own rates instead. According to the RIAA, they see satellite radio as an interactive service, which they claim makes them entitled to higher rates, particularly as its audience continues to grow.”

Your comments on any of these items are welcome.

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