Do you drive a USDM car made in the past 15-20 years? Then keep on jamming to 90's on 9. If not, turn down 97.1, Eagle FM, bringing you the best (worst) songs (crap) from the 70s, 80s and today’s (last year’s) greatest (overplayed) hits and listen! I want to tell you why XM-Radio is more awesome than you might think.
To do that, I’ll give you a perspective of my home country Germany, where radio programs are either old school or don’t really work on long trips.
It’s not that we have any kind of infrastructural problems, or that we cannot get better technical equipment. We ourselves are the problem. The German as a species is probably the most inveterate life form on the planet. We call that “Gewohnheitstier”, which literally translates to creature of habit. We like our radio exactly the way it’s been since FM-frequencies became popular in the late 1960's.
There are two types of stations in Germany. Private ones, just like you have in the U.S. that roughly use a 100-Mile-radius from their station which are funded by commercials. They are quite popular around larger cities or residential areas, especially for people who don’t usually drive longer distances. As a resulting benefit, they can tailor their range of information and entertainment messages to a very local selection. However, they are not the first choice for longer drives, since you can easily lose reception within less than an hour.
So, what about long distances traveled in short time on our beloved Autobahn?
Here, you’re better of with federal radio stations. What may sound boring due to the word “federal” is actually pretty neat. Germany is split into five parts - radio-wise. You have NDR in the north, WDR in the west, MDR for the east and also SWR and BR for the south-west and Bavaria. All these stations have an ‘R’ in their name which just stands for “Rundfunk”- broadcast. Every one of those big players have their own subsidiaries that are usually numbered, like BR 1, BR 2, BR 3 and so on. Each numbered station serves a different genre. 2 for example focuses a lot on cultural contents, 5 is usually a news-only station, 1, 3 or 4 differ mostly in their target groups.
All of them provide large areas of reception, that usually reach about an hour into the neighboring area, which means you can listen to it for hours on end.
With that in mind, you know now how to cross Germany in its entire length without having to change your station more than two times. Congratulations! The thing is though: They are usually very similar. The vast majority of people prefers the regular combination of one or two popular songs, a minute of commercials and a minute of studio-entertainment. Every half hour, they are interrupted by 5 minutes of daily news and another minute of traffic information. Now that works impeccably well, but if you are driving a lot on a regular basis, it gets boring after an hour or two, especially since many news programs don’t get updated every 30 minutes.
Sure you can change to one of the culturally more delicate stations, that aren’t even interrupted by commercials at all, but if you’re not too much into the history of Chinese pottery painters from the Ming dynasty, you’ve had it for the rest of the drive.
Wouldn’t it be oh, so nice to choose from a large array of different stations that will cover pretty much any taste in music or talk shows? Here comes XM-Radio. The sole provider in the U.S. is Sirius-XM which chooses to be commercial-free in an exchange for a monthly rate of around $15. They serve you with 140 Stations plus a ton of sports-related stations dedicated to individual teams.
The concept of a radio station in itself is great for driving, because you don’t have to make your own choice in music after every single track or album. There is somebody who does that for you. You get to hear the songs you like, but didn’t think of at the time. If it wasn’t for radio stations, you would experience the same kind of “too-much-choice-dilemma” that we all know from Netflix or long-haul flights where there are plenty of movies offered and you just can’t decide which one to watch. But wait, you say, what about online-entertainment? They have playlists and the same benefits of a good radio-station.
That’s right, but they often have commercials and no matter what cellular provider you have, you’ll always encounter areas with poor to no reception. On my way to work for example, there is a stretch of road through the woods, where I have to be all set before I enter it, in order for my phone to buffer enough music to cross the forest. Skip a track? Nope.
I don’t want to advertise for them. I rather look at XM-Radio from a sociological point of view. It opens the old wound of how many social performances should be mandatory, or how liberal public matters should be.
I. e.: Public health care - yay or nay?
I. e.: One of the biggest cultural differences between Europe and the U.S.
As a European, I do enjoy our public health care just because there will always be people unable to afford emergency services in... well emergencies. To me, that is not socialism but rather solidarity.
The comfort of a radio station that’s almost tailor made for you however is something that should not be supported by public funds.
Of course, there should be federal stations for important news and the like, but I don’t necessarily like my legislator to serve me some groovy traffic jams. But why do I complain? At least you can listen to it for free, right?
Every German tax-payer that owns any kind of radio receiving device is mandated to pay a yearly fee of a hefty €330 (that’s $376). Even then, you still have to listen to commercials, apart from those federal-niche stations.
To make matters worse, most cars still only use old style FM-technology. So if your crappy airport rental Mitsubishi Mirage (or Space Star as it’s hilariously called in our world) just comes with a meager reception, that’s all you get. Granted, we have DAB-stations (Digital Audio Broadcasting) that can be received by many modern radios, but they also are limited to a certain area and use regular commercial programming style.
This is why I’d rather be able to decide for myself, if I like to pay for luxurious radio-goodness, like Sirius-XM. At least, I could enjoy it that way.
My conclusion is a relative one, nonetheless. Sirius-XM makes about 3,8 Billion Dollars in revenue every year. A large company like that and the associated infrastructure would be way to big for a small country like Germany. You also couldn’t use it in the entirety of Europe because unlike you Yanks, we funny folks all speak different languages.
All in all, for me, XM-Radio is nothing but a nice dream. But if someday I decide to spend larger parts of my life than a few weeks every year in the U.S. you’ll definitely find me on Sirius’s subscription list.