Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Product Review: Sirius XM Radio

by Chris McGinty (According To WHim .com)

I recently rented a vehicle, because I had to make a long trip. The vehicle had Sirius XM radio. XM stands for Xylophone Modulation, or something like that.

Now I know that you want to know what I thought about Sirius, but I’d like to take this opportunity to explain something about rental vehicles. They are like cell phones in a strange way.

In order to explain that statement I have to explain something about cell phones. You see, years ago cell phones were a luxury item. They are still more or less luxury items, but they’ve reasonably moved into the necessary luxury category. This is because they get a lot more utility for the cost than they used to. It used to be that a short conversation could cost you a few dollars on a cell phone. If you weren’t a doctor who would end up making more money by responding to the call, you had to think twice about answering a cell phone. Now, cell phones can act as an all in one organizer that you can have conversations on, and for a few dollars a day, rather than a few dollars a call. In most cases, cell phone plans are moving toward unlimited use per month, and can easily replace the necessary luxury once known as the home phone.

At one time you also got far less utility from rental vehicles for the money you paid, because in many cases if you drove more than a set number of miles you started paying per mile. Compare that to the deal that I got on the vehicle I rented which was unlimited miles as long as I stayed in a three state range, which I did.

Given the average cost of wear and tear that I would have incurred on my personal vehicle, renting a vehicle with unlimited miles for a day made financial sense. In the days of paying per mile after a certain number of miles, I would have never done that. And I certainly wouldn’t have talked on the phone the entire trip there.

The vehicle had XM radio. XM stands for Xenon Mutation, or something like that. I came to a realization while listening that I’m not really all that impressed with Sirius. It’s not that I would go so far as to say that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone though. My problem with it is that I was expecting a few more stations that delved a little more into underground music. In most cases, if I was familiar with the genre, I was very familiar with what they were playing, and I’m sure most people are.

Maybe I’m a little spoiled by Pandora, an internet based “radio” that admittedly does me no good while driving. With Pandora, you seed your station with a song, an artist, or any number of either or both. It then picks songs that you might like based on what you click that you like and dislike. In the time that I’ve been writing this, I’ve been listening to a Pandora station that I seeded with “Der Kommissar” by After the Fire (originally by Falco). It’s a station that I later seeded with some of the bands I heard on it that I liked, and have been pretty diligent about liking and disliking the songs by clicking. So far this session, I have heard bands like Hoodoo Gurus, The Pixies, Orange Park, The Whole Fantastic World, The Soft Boys, Say Hi to Your Mom, Breakers Broken, and Built Like Alaska. Each of these are bands that I like, and more importantly, the songs are not songs that I typically hear on commercial radio.

That was my complaint about Sirius. I could have just listened to regular old FM stations, and heard what I heard on Sirius. The only difference is that I didn’t have to sit through long commercial breaks, and I could pick the genre I was in the mood for and stick with it. I settled on a station called “1st Wave,” and switched occasionally to “80s on 8.” “1st Wave” was more or less an 80s station, but they would bust out with a couple of unexpected tracks like “Making Plans for Nigel” by XTC, “Sunday Papers” by Joe Jackson”, and a track by The Waterboys that I can’t remember the name of.

Basically, I just can’t see paying a subscription fee for a bunch of stations that play what I hear anyway. But keep in mind that this is a statement from a guy who mostly listens to CDs while driving to have better control over what I’m listening to (I was listening to cassettes in my car before, but the tape player has since crapped out). The only reason I would want the Sirius service would be the Howard Stern stations, but even then I’ll have to be in a better financial situation. On the other hand, if you simply want genre variety, no commercials, you aren’t too worried about hearing an abundance of music that you’ve never heard before, and you have the ability to pay a small nominal fee each month, Sirius might be the service for you. For its intended audience, it is a fine service.

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