Category Archives: Satellite Radio

XM and Sirius subscription satellite radio; reviews of the programming and receiver hardware.

XM DieFi

As you know, I’m a big fan of satellite radio and subscribe to both the major services, XM and Sirius. I subscribed to Sirius first and have previously described my travail when my Sirius Orbiter reciever crashed and burned. Then, late last year, I subscribed to XM and bought the XM MyFi setup. Well, now it was XM’s turn to crash and burn.

Since I had Sirius to listen to, this hardware crash wasn’t quite as traumatic (or dramatic) as it was when my Sirius Orbiter crashed– there was no driving to the store at 6am in my underwear and assaulting the olfactory of the clerk with my special vapors.

But still, losing XM was a psychologically damaging experience. I had gotten into a habit of listening to news and talk every evening at bedtime; shows like Phil Hendrie, Rollye James and Coast to Coast AM. Oh, it was a whole cozy ritual: Mrs. Samurai, Bubba, and I would snuggle down into our queen-size bed. Mrs. Samurai would usually read for a while, I’d be laying beside her ‘pooting on my Mac iBook (easily the coolest little compooter I’ve ever used), and Bubba would snuggle in betwixt us, lick himself a little bit, maybe nibble a paw or a rib and we’d all settle in for the night.

I also had my MyFi set up to record the Starstreams show on Ch. 77 (Audio Visions) which aired every day from 4 to 6 pm ET. So I always had five hours of fresh music stored in the MyFi ready to listen to anytime or even take with me. If you haven’t heard of Starstreams, you don’t know what you’re missing! You can also listen to them online via Live365. They play mostly ambient electronica from all your favorite artists such as Sounds from the Ground, Open Canvas, TUU, Bluetech, Omnimotion, Liquid Zen, Zero One and many others too numerous to name.

So, I had this nice assortment of news, talk radio, and music which I had become accustomed to having conveniently and readily available to me through XM radio on the MyFi receiver. Life was beautiful; life was precious.

And then it happened.

The XM MyFi shat the bed. In an instant, my six-month old MyFi melted down into a DieFi and our entire way of life was obliterated. Specifically what happened is that the receiver was no longer able to tune to channels 77 and above– which were the only ones I ever listened to. I could still get all the rock, rap, and other doo-doo music if I wanted to but half the channels available on XM radio were no longer available to me. The weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Oh, Death, where is thy sting?

Only by tripling my usual dose of lithium in the subsequent days, from 10,000 mg to 30,000 mg per day, was I able to pull myself together enough to undertake the arduous process of contacting Delphi to get a warranty return number and send it back. Ten days passed in what seemed like ten thousand years.

Then the golden day arrived when the UPS man in the nice brown truck brought me my replacement XM MyFi receiver. I was so ecstatic that I stayed up for five straight days, listening to XM radio the entire time, before collapsing into a heap in front of the toilet, breaking it in half with my head.

When I awoke in the hospital, the first thing I saw was my dear, dear wife… holding my XM MyFi receiver in front of my face. She told me that I had been in a coma for three weeks and that she had set up my XM MyFi docking station in my hospital room where it played constantly on Audio Visions. This is a testament to the sheer power of XM radio– it can pull people out of comas. I later heard from a guy in my group therapy sessions that XM radio brought a dead guy back to life. Healing the sick, raising the dead, could XM radio be the Second Coming…?

Then, it happened again: my replacement MyFi started flaking out on channels 77 and above. A cosmically cruel joke or merely an inherent flaw in the MyFi? I don’t know and don’t care to find out.

I decided I just could not risk another cold turkey deprivation of XM due to shoddy hardware so I ordered a Roady 2 from Amazon for a mere $50, which includes everything you need to set it up on your vehicle. And a mere $30 gets you the home docking and antenna kit. I’ll post a review of the Roady 2 after I’ve had a chance to use it for a while.

Star Warz: XM vs. Sirius

If you haven’t heard about satellite radio, it’s time to pull your head out of the muck and tune-in. I’ve written previously about satellite radio and you can see a list of past posts here. If you have heard about satellite radio but are still trying to decide between Sirius or XM, this post might help you make your decision.

I subscribe to both Sirius and XM. I started by subscribing to Sirius back in September, 2004. Then, a couple weeks ago, my wife bought me the XM MyFi set. For a quick, crude comparison of the two services, check this out; it’s shortcoming is that it doesn’t offer any personal exeriences, it’s just a bland presentation of facts and stats. Now that I’ve been listening to both, I’m pleased to announce that I can now offer the much-awaited Samurai comparision of the two services.


In terms of the sheer number of music channels, both services are very comparable. Both have the usual decades, rock, pop, and schlop. Sirius has a strong lineup of mainstream pap (yes, I meant pap), hip-hop and rap crap accompanied by lots of latin noise. That’s all great if you are black, brown or have very urban tastes. But I’m a middle-aged white guy who lives in rural New England and I don’t want to hear urban or foreign noise aimed at malcontents, people-of-color, and losers suffering under delusions of oppression. What’s a cracker to do?

XM has two excellent channels that are engineered for the contemplative white ear: Audio Visions (ch. 77) and Fine Tuning (ch. 76). It’s refreshing to find such audible treats in an obstreperous sea of hip-hop, rap, and other aural assaults. Sirius does not have any such comparable counterparts.

Both Sirius and XM have three comparable classical channels: symphonies, operas, and pops. The biggest difference between the two services in their classical lineup is in their opera channels. Sirius calls its opera channel Classical Voices (ch. 85) and plays strictly classical operas. XM’s opera channel is called Vox! (ch. 112) and, in addition to classical opera, plays a healthy dose of Gregorian-style chant. I’m still waiting to hear Byzantine chant.

Both services carry a folk music channel (Folk Village on XM and Folk Town on Sirius–ain’t that cute?). They are very comparable and I enjoy both of them.


No contest here: Sirius wins hands-down. Both services carry the usual suspects: Fox, CNN, BBC, ABC News-Talk, C-SPAN, and The Weather Channel. XM also carries pMSNBC and CNN Headline Snooze–neither one is missed in the Sirius lineup.

This table points out the main differences between Sirius and XM in their news/talk channels:

  Sirius XM
Public Radio NPR Now, NPR Talk, Public Radio International (PRI), World Radio Network (WRN). All are first-class radio listening. XM Public Radio (lame)
Bloomberg Radio Carries the full 24-hr, seven day broadcast. Full European and Asian market coverage all night long. Only carries the live broadcast during market hours; freaky, automated weather-radio-station-sounding voice during all off-hours.
Weather Carries The Weather Channel regional reports. Only carries the one-size-fits-all Weather Channel reports.
Political Two right-wing channels: Patriot and Talk-Right. Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Jerry Doyle, Tammy Bruce, World Net Daily Radio, Rusty Humphries…the usual neo-con clatter.
Also has two left-wing channels: the optimistically-named Air America and Talk-Left; the latter channel features unique hosts not heard on broadcast radio: Lynn Samuels, Alex Bennett, Ed Shultz, and the Young Turks. Sometimes, if you listen reeeeal hard, these hosts start to sound like libertarians…then they start talking about gun control and the sanctity of Social Security and you realize they’re still big gubmint liberals.
One right-wing and one left-wing channel. Both are the usual neo-con and liberal clap-trap with no unique hosts or points-of-view.

Neither service has a Libertarian channel, which would be very refreshing. Sirius has a Patriot channel, but it’s just more of the same neo-con, big gubmint yak. I remember when the Patriot movement I supported was synonymous with small government. How ironic when I hear all the modern “patriots” cheerleading the biggest, most destructive gubmint program of ’em all: foreign war. I wonder if these “patriots” would still be such enthusiastic cheerleaders if a Democratic administration was in charge of the Iraq war program… and if the indignant Left would be nearly as self-righteous. Seems no one operates by a consistent, fundamental set of principles anymore. It’s all what’s most expedient for the moment.

For my Libertarian fix, I tune in to Scott Horton’s excellent Weekend Interview Show. Scott also makes his interviews available as MP3 files so I can download ’em and listen on my Rio MP3 player while I’m on the job breaking, er, I mean, fixing appliances.

Bottom Line: The music channels are more diverse on XM and the news/talk is more diverse on Sirius. If you can only subscribe to one service, then choose according to your primary listening interest: for music, pick XM; for news/talk, pick Sirius. If you can afford it, subscribe to both services.

The Orbiter Crashes

As you know, I’m a huge fan of satellite radio. I bought a Sirius Orbiter receiver at the local Radio Shack in September and have been hopelessly addicted to satellite radio ever since.

Last night, while lying in bed and listening to Ernie Brown’s show, America at Night, my Orbiter fell from communion with the Sirius mothership and fried its little silicon brains. Bile burned the back of my throat as the prospects for a good night’s sleep were mercilessly incinerated. O, Death, where is thy sting?

My bowels quivered with anxiety as I contemplated the hassle and bickering that surely lay in store for me when I tried to exchange the receiver, still well within the one-year warranty, in the morning. Would my local Radio Shack even have any more in stock this close to Christmas? Would Radio Shack demand merely the soul of my first born child in exchange for a new receiver or would they greedily demand the soul of my semper fi canine hiking companion, Bubba? I struggled mightily with these tempestuous demons as I tossed and turned in my cold, silent bed until the gray light of dawn peered through my window.

I arose at first light and called my local Radio Shack. Just as I suspected, they knew I would be calling and refused to answer. My wife pointed out that it may have had something to do with the fact that it was only 6:37am and the store doesn’t open until 9:00am. I told her that she must be a collaborator with the Great Satan at Radio Shack and that her ruse wasn’t working on me. Then I grabbed the smoldering Sirius receiver and ran screaming, in my skivvies, out of the house and into the sub-zero morning to drive to the Radio Shack.

When I arrived at the store at 6:57am, the door was locked and lights were off inside. Uh huh, the old turn-off-the-lights-and-pretend-we’re-not-home trick. I was an old pro at this game and if they were hoping I’d get bored and leave, well, they just didn’t know who they were dealing with. I was a man on a mission. And I wasn’t wearing any pants.

As confirmation that my wife was in cahoots with the local Radio Shack, an employee walked up and opened the door at 8:59am, holding a tall, steaming cup of Green Mountain coffee. As the employee opened the door and walked inside, I was out of van and inside the store before the door even closed. The employee, pretending to be startled, jumped and dropped his coffee, yelling something about “freak” and “underwear,” I don’t know, I didn’t pay attention to his babbling. I was focused on the mission. I held up the fried receiver and told him I needed a new one… NOW! He stammered something about verifying. I stepped toward him and he ran around behind the counter, telling me that he’d have to make some phone calls to sort through the warranty process. I fought back using the only weapon I had with me: .

After unleashing my thunderous fury, the room filled with an ethereal chartreuse cloud. The Radio Shack punk started gagging and spitting in a vain attempt to expell the foulness. I think he might have thrown up in his mouth. With cheeks bulging and tears streaming from his eyes, he grabbed a new Sirius Orbiter receiver box set and threw it at me, then pointed to the door. I tossed him my old receiver and left. Victory was mine!

So, while I was disappointed that my Orbiter receiver failed after only three months of near-continuous use, I was pleased that Radio Shack was quick to exchange the receiver for a new one. Ok, America at Night is coming on Sirius and it’s time to get to bed. Later, freak.

Satellite Radio Gizmology

So Friday night I came home after a long day of running appliance service calls and Mrs. Samurai surprised me with an early Christmas present. Oh, take your mind out of the gutter! She bought me the new XM MyFi set (would it be too corny to say she bought me an XMas present? ok, nevermind). In case you’ve been too busy drinking Bud and watching Gilligan, XM is the largest of the two big subscription satellite radio services; the other is Sirius. I already subscribed to Sirius earlier this year and have been an acolyte at the altar of satellite radio ever since. As a dutiful American consumer, doing my part to power the economy by spending money on stuff I don’t really need, I adhere to the motto that, “More is better.” So now I subscribe to both satellite radio services!

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, Mr. Samurai money-bags, you must be getting rich doing appliance repair to be able to afford all that!” All what? The monthly subscription fee for XM is only $9.95 and Sirius is $12.95. Even combined, that’s a lot less than the typical cable TV monthly bill and since we don’t do TV in our house, that leaves lots of money left over for beer! What’s your next question?

“Ok, Mr. Smarty-pants Samurai, well, uhh, why’d your wife get you XM if you already had Sirius?”

Good question, thanks for asking. It really came down to the hardware rather than the programming. The programming between each service is very similar: dozens of commercial-free, CD-quality music channels, and dozens of news and talk channels including all the usual suspects such as Faux News, Communist News Network (CNN), Bloomberg Bidness News, C-Span, and BBC.

In my much sought-after opinion, which I’ll give you here for free, Sirius has a slightly better news lineup. XM has a slightly better talk lineup. For example, XM carries three of my favorite radio shows: The World-Famous Phil Hendrie Show, The Rollye James Show, and Coast to Coast AM. Both carry my favorite investment show, MoneyTalk.

The music lineup of XM and Sirius are very similar. The main difference is that Sirius has unique DJ personalities, some of whom are very entertaining, whereas XM runs its music channels largely on autopilot. Some audiogeeks claim they can hear a difference in the music quality. Depending on who you talk to, some say XM sounds better while others say Sirius sounds better. I can’t tell a difference–they’re both CD-quality sound and any differences in sound quality is probably more a function of your audio equipment rather than the satellite service.

But my dear wife saw me drooling over the sexy new XM MyFi rig. The appeal with this hot little gizmo is that it’s small, portable, and includes everything you need to listen to XM at home, in your vehicle, or while walking. I’ve read some cheesedorks whining about the $350 price tag but this is nothing more than naive petulance from the “gimme something for nothing” crowd. Look at all the equipment that’s included with the MyFi package, along with the receiver (shown above):

I’ve spent at least that much on the various docking stations and other equipment so I could listen to Sirius in my bedroom (I like to drift off to sleep while listening to the radio), my downstairs workstation, and my service van.

And the Sirius equipment didn’t come with the Tivo-like feature that the MyFi has where you can record five hours of programming. This was the big selling feature for me. Now I can record one of my favorite shows on the MyFi then clip it to my belt and listen on the go. One especially cool feature is that you can skip through commercials by just pressing a key; it’s not a fast forward, either, it skips right to the next segment. Waaaay cool.

Since the audio is stored in flash memory, not an iPod-esque mini hard drive, battery life of the MyFi is excellent. I don’t know how long yet, but I do know that the battery lasts far longer than the five-hour recording memory capacity because I still have full battery bars after listening to five hours of recorded audio.

The only thing I wish Delphi (the manufacturer of the MyFi) had included is a sandisk memory expansion slot. With a 512 mb sandisk, you could increase the record time from five hours to 18 hours, maybe more.

These two new satellite radio services will force land-based broadcast radio to change or become obsolete. Broadcast radio, in its current format, sucks: eight minutes of pap followed by four minutes of commercials and all the same bland diet of pap and pablum. We can thank the FCC for much of broadcast radio’s current sorry state of affairs. Many smaller, community-based radio stations, such as WNTK here in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont, are operating on shoestring budgets. So when the FCC, the Keystone cops of the airwaves, threatens to levy fines for indecency (which, incidentally, is not defined anywhere in the FCC rules–it’s all complaint-driven) these smaller stations are so paralyzed with fear they they dare not innovate or air controversial shows or personalities.

With the advent of satellite radio, the days of the nationally syndicated talk shows and corporate music playlists are numbered. Why put up with that crap when you can get a larger selection of better talk shows and commercial-free music all in CD-quality sound by going to satellite radio? The only salvation for broadcast radio will be local color: local talk shows such as WNTK’s Morning Liftoff, local news, local weather. Leave the one-size-fits-all programming to the big birds in the sky.

The Punk Yard

I’m up well past midnight working on the website, reading the latest news while Sirius Left of Center (Channel 26) cranks out new and classic punk rock: Dead Boys, Black Flag, Joan Jett, Blondie, Pixies and more, one right after the other. All high-energy, hard-driving cuts. It’s a show on Sundays from 11 pm to 2 am called The Punk Yard.

Satellite radio: rockin’ your world.

Satellites Are Out Tonight

I’m trying to write a new pearl of appliance repair wisdom to post but I keep getting distracted by the good jams they’re playing on Sirius. So, I figure I’ll just go with the flow and write about satellite radio.

If you haven’t checked out satellite radio yet, do it now. You get about 120 channels of music, news, and talk for a just a few bucks a month. The music is CD-quality and 100% commercial free. I subscribe to Sirius because that’s what Wilbur sells at the local Radio Shack here in New London. I’m a little irked at Radio Shack Corp., though, because they just started offering a web-only $20 rebate on Sirius Orbiter receivers. This is a weenie thing to do because it undermines the local Radio Shack store owners. Mostly I’m annoyed because I want $20. Hey, that’s more than a case of Tuckerman’s Pale Ale!

Some of these names can be confusing so lemme clarify some things. Sirius is the name of the satellite service. Orbiter is the brand name of equipment sold by Radio Shack that lets you receive the satellite service. I suspect that Orbiter is one of those Radio Shack-only brands because I’ve not seen it offered anywhere else.

Anyway, I have the Sirius Orbiter boom box set up downstairs at my main workstation. So, most every night, when I’m down here working on this website, I’m jamming on one of the Sirius rock channels. Sirius has 17 rock channels but, in the evenings, I’m usually tuned to Jam_ON (channel 17) where Adam Foley is cranking out the good jams from 7 pm to 1 am every weeknight. When a particularly good jam comes on, such as Derek and the Dominoes Jam IV, I plug in my Sennheiser HD497’s and turn it up without disturing Mrs. Samurai sleeping in the bedroom directly above me.

If you’re a talk radio junkie, there’s a whole lotta yakkin’ going on in the Sirius talk channels. The talk genres tend be mostly from the Republicrat and Demopublican camps–same old brain-dead, party-line fecal matter; nothing very thought provoking. The one minor disappointment with Sirius is the lack of alternative talk shows from libertarians and free-market thinkers. It’s not like there’s a shortage of libertarian radio personalities. I download libertarian and free-market shows on the web for my Rio MP3 player all the time. Three of my faves are:

But, since I mostly use Sirius for its music, and I have good online sources for my libertarian propaganda fix, Sirius’ shortcoming in this area is a trifling thing.

Bottom line recommendation: get Sirius satellite radio. You’ll be glad you did.