Satellite Saved the Radio Star - Satellite Saved the Radio Star

2006-03-30 15:32

With its largely commercial-free and joyfully expletive-laced programming, satellite radio has, in four short years, morphed from a novelty product into a mainstream phenomenon.

The rise of satellite radio is most obviously reflected in the dramatic subscriber figures of the two US companies that pioneered the service in 2001, XM and Sirius.

By the end of 2003, they enjoyed a combined total of just over one million subscribers. That figure ballooned to more than four million in 2004 and nine million last year, with an estimate for 2006 of 15 million.

The task of raising satellite radio's profile was made all the easier by the storm of publicity surrounding the decision by the country's most notorious and popular radio host, "shock jock" Howard Stern, to quit the terrestrial CBS radio and re-launch his career in the censor-free constellation of Sirius.

Stern's strong stuff

Stern's first satellite broadcast was a major event, with the national media breathlessly reporting on the number of times he swore and looking for acceptable ways to report the more graphic - and usually sexual - content of the show.

Since signing Stern in 2004, Sirius has seen its subscriber base mushroom from 600,000 to 3.3 million - with the majority of new listeners Stern fans who signed up to follow their hero.

Although Sirius has Stern, XM is still the big brother of the two companies, with around nine million subscribers, and it has also benefited from the publicity Stern generated for the whole satellite broadcast medium.

Bob's your er... DJ

And XM recently announced its own coup by signing up reclusive music legend Bob Dylan to host his own music show.

The advantages of satellite radio include static-free reception, an escape from the censorship of federal regulators and an interactive element that allows subscribers to listen to programming where and when they want.

The lack of advertising means program managers are under no pressure to placate the mainstream, resulting in a huge choice of specialised channels catering to almost any taste.
XM currently offers 160 channels, and Sirius, 125, which together cover just about every musical genre imaginable, as well news, sports and talk.

The most obvious drawback for the thrifty consumer is that in order to listen, you have to pay.Both companies charge a subscription fee of $12.95 a month, and listeners must also invest in at least one of a wide range of receivers in a market that is expanding as fast as technology will allow.

And it's going mobile

In addition to dedicated receivers for the car and the home, there are also "plug and play" models that can be used in either place.

The market for satellite radio hardware is expected to top $400 million in 2006, compared with $362 million in 2005, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

At the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Sirius unveiled a new satellite radio receiver designed to interface with multiple radios, audio systems and home theatre systems.

"We want to make our unique and compelling programming available over as many products as we can," said Sirius senior vice president Bob Law.

At the same trade show, XM showed off two new portable receivers developed with Samsung and Pioneer which have built-in antennae and can receive live programming on the move.

Both can also record up to 50 hours of radio programmes or MP3 files downloaded from a personal computer.

"Since its creation in 1895, radio has continued to re-invent itself to stay current," said CEA chief executive Gary Shapiro.

"Today's radios come in all shapes and sizes and are used in the home, car, office and on the go. The largest change is the wealth of content and content formats now driving the development of radio technology," Shapiro said.

- Listen to Radio online with MWEB's My Radio tuner Click here
- Listen to Podcasts. They a lot like radio shows. Click here

Amandine Ambregni / AFP

Previously regional radio stations, like Jo'burg's popular YFM, are making themselves available via DSTV's satellite broadcasts. So South Africa begins toying with satellite radio, which is rapidly changing the radio market overseas, and defeating increasingly er... Stern and politically conservative US censors. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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