Sirius-ly a hit

“Don’t touch that dial!” With satellite radio, finding stations that cater to specific tastes is easy. Sirius Satellite Radio has almost 200 channels, many of which are specialized. Channel 13, Elvis Radio, is just one example. It’s all King, all the time.

The number of subscribers to satellite radio has jumped from 28,000 in 2001 to more than 11.3 million in 2006, according to a July 20 article on CNN.com. “Keep in mind that one subscriber usually means two listeners,” added Steve Blatter, senior vice-president of music programming at Sirius. Though XM Satellite Radio is its largest competitor, the strongest effort at Sirius is to attract listeners from “terrestrial” radio — the new industry lingo for AM and FM radio.

Gone are the days of desperately trying to find reception for a hip-hop station in the middle of Mississippi. Now, with satellite radio, listeners can enjoy their favorite music at any location — without interruption. “[Satellite radio] is able to provide to consumers a solution to local radio’s biggest problem; namely, commercials,” Blatter said. According to Blatter, Sirius’ 69 commercial-free music channels inspire many listeners to switch from terrestrial radio.
“Satellite radio also can get away with more than terrestrial radio because we’re packaging radio tailored to specific markets,” said Blatter. This means that satellite radio can give new bands an opportunity to be heard by a wider audience. Sirius has an entire station devoted to new rock that plays new and unsigned bands. Mixing mainstream and new music on one of its Top-20 stations, XM also does its part to give exposure to upcoming artists.

However, there are some drawbacks. “Our DJs ... really like mixing genres in their shows, in contrast to satellite carving things up into tiny little boxes,” said Alex Smith, general manager of CMU radio station WRCT. Smith’s opinion is representative of much of the terrestrial scene. Additionally, many believe that satellite radio lacks the personal touch of terrestrial radio. “Outside of music, satellite certainly isn’t covering locally produced Pittsburgh talk shows or Tartan sports events,” Smith said.

Regardless of the arguments for or against it, satellite radio has one market it has yet to conquer: college students. Smith said, “It seems to me that people are more drawn to Internet radio as opposed to satellite, at least around CMU’s campus.” This is something that XM and Sirius hope to change. Both companies have Internet radio companies that are free with subscription to satellite radio. By itself, the Internet radio the companies offer can cost at least $7.99 a month.

Despite the new Internet radio companies, satellite radio seems to have a long way to go to win over the college demographic. But right now, conquering higher education is a low priority. “Radio fell into the hands of people who completely forgot about the human touch,” said Sirius programmer Meg Griffin in Rolling Stone. “They wrecked it. And now we’re un-wrecking it.”