Speaking of Christmas, last year I got my wife a Sirius satellite radio system for her car. But over the course of the year, our family situation changed, we both began driving much less, and when we traded our two cars for a more family-friendly single car, I never got around to re-installing it.
Then, in early December, I kept getting calls from an unknown number on my cellphone. I finally answered one, and it was one of those auto-robot telemarketing calls that I thought had been outlawed. It was Sirius. They were trying to upsell me to a second radio.
My predictable response? I got on the phone immediately and canceled my subscription, effective the day her year is up. Will these companies ever learn?
But even without our change in driving habits or the annoying telemarketing call, I would have cancelled it anyway. Here’s why.
1. Sound quality. Sure, the 200+ stations mean you can almost always find something you’ll enjoy. But when that great song comes on and you crank it up, the sound quality’s much worse than FM radio. I’d probably equate it to the first MP3s I ever heard, back when 64kbps was a reasonable encoding rate. Little bass, absolutely no high treble, boxy midrange that spreads at volume. It’s fine for sports broadcasts or talk radio, but a no go for anybody who’s really into music.
2. Awkward hardware. I bought one of their plug-and-play units that came with an optional car kit. To set it up, I had to magnetically attach the antenna to the car roof, then run a wire down under the bodyside molding next to the rear window, through the trunk, underneath the back seat and floormats, and finally in between the front seats. Can you see why I wasn’t anxious to reinstall it? Plus, every time we parked the car, we had to unplug both that wire and the power wire (which connected to the cigarette lighter), snap the unit out of its plastic case, and carry it with us (or risk it getting stolen). The whole thing felt cheap and slapped together. I’m sure there are versions that a stereo store can preinstall for you, but then when you sell the car, you have to pay another $100 to get it reinstalled.
3. Bad business. Even before the incident with the robot calls, I felt like Sirius was not a very trustworthy organization. When I bought the radio, it was advertised as $99, but of course that required a $50 rebate to be mailed in. The terms for the rebate were ridiculously hyperpsecific, but I followed them anyway…until I realized that I had to start my service within 7 days of buying the radio. Which I bought for a Christmas present and which sat under the tree for more than seven days. Ha ha! Too late! No rebate for you! Add that to the overpriced service ($149 a year), bad sound quality, and cheap plastic nature of the hardware, and I always felt ripped off by the whole thing.
4. It’s still (modern) radio. Sirius has adopted most of the crap from the modern radio era. There’s no continuity of programming: irritating DJs or promotional spots interrupt between almost every song. Stations don’t seem to put much thought into song order–shows feel just as preprogrammed and impersonal as my local classic rock station, only with narrower niches. (I remember the good old days of FM radio when, for example, a DJ played “No New Tale to Tell” by Love and Rockets, during which I casually commented to a friend “it sounds a lot like ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen.” He disagreed. As soon as the song ended, the DJ played….”We Will Rock You” by Queen. Obviously the DJ had listened, thought, and selected a followup song on the spot. This used to happen all the time. Tell that to the kids today and they won’t believe you.) The music, while more eclectic and varied than regular radio, is still drawn almost exclusively from the major labels, where so-called artists are signed for their visual appeal and ability to croon a single rather than their musicianship or vision or artistry.
Why suffer through all this when I can have hundreds of hours of my favorites at my fingertips? Some folks seem to like XM better, but I’d rather stick with an iPod or Zune.