When I received a rental car recently (car vs. deer) I had a chance to try out SIRIUS satellite radio. I've ridden with other people who had satellite radio in their cars, but this was the first time I actually got to live with the radio and try it out first-hand.
The first few days were great. There is decidedly more variety to satellite radio than terrestrial radio. I really enjoyed listening to the bluegrass channel, and the other musical genres that terrestrial radio avoids altogether.
But after a while, I felt boredom kick in. Yes, they have the oldies nicely broken down by decade, so I could just listen to music from the 60's, or 70's or 80's -- but it was always the same old chart-topping hits that got played. Basically, I was hearing the songs that commercial radio had burnt me out on through overplaying years ago. I never had an aha! moment when I heard something unfamiliar, or a song I hadn't heard in quite a while.
And there were commercials -- at least during drive time. Within a couple of days, I was doing the same thing I used to do with terrestrial radio. Whenever an ad came on, I punched the preset to the next station. And did the same when that channel ran a spot, and so on and so on.
Some have complained about the sound quality, but that didn't bother me too much -- after all, it's radio. What bothered me more was the repetition. Once when I was tuned to the Blue Collar comedy channel, I heard the same routine driving home that I listened to driving in. And it wasn't that funny the first time around.
I also didn't like the display. I'm not sure if it's the function of the head unit in the car (a KIA Sportster) or the way SIRIUS fed the metadata, but I seldom saw artist names. For the comedy channels, it was frustrating as I seldom knew who was talking. Not amusing.
But the worst offenders were the classical channels. I tuned in to listen to a work only identified as "String Quartet No. 2 in B flat." That was perhaps the most unhelpful ID ever. Thousands of string quartets have been composed since Haydn developed the form in the late 1700s. Telling me the number and key didn’t narrow the field down that much. I needed to know the composer (or at least opus number).
So how composers wrote their second string quartets in the key of B-flat major? Here’s a partial listing: Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf; Charles Liu; Gerald Manning; Giovanni Battista Viotti; Antonin Dvorak; Bernard Romberg; Franz Xaver Richter' Maddalena Laura Lombardini-Sirmen; Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach; Felix Mendelssohn; Ottorino Respighi; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Wilhelm Altmann.
By midweek I was drifting back to some iPod listening. I had some podcasts to catch up on, and the content was fresher. From that point on, it was all downhill. Within a few days, I was back to my old habit of listening to podcasts as I drove. Lots of new information, minimal commercials (if any), and a programming mix uniquely suited to my tastes.
Now to be fair, my wife loved SIRIUS. She really enjoyed hearing her favorite songs one right after the other. So my negative was her plus.
For the most part, though, it was a somewhat disappointing experience. And while I did return to my iPod’s content, there’s something else worth mentioning. At no time did I ever consider just turning on the AM/FM radio to listen to what was being broadcast over-the-air.