Radio Ga-Ga

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about satellite radio. Is it like Internet radio? How can I get it?
— P. Jackson, Atlanta

A: No doubt satellite radio has come to your attention because of the ongoing battle between the Federal Communications Commission and shock jock Howard Stern. But satellite radio companies such as XM ( and Sirius ( have been around for quite a few years now. XM is the top provider with more than 2 million subscribers. Both offer similar content: about 120 digital channels of original programming, which includes commercial-free music, news, sports, traffic, and weather from the likes of CNN, MTV, ESPN, Disney, and so on. Think of it as digital cable TV for the radio.

How does it work? Satellite differs from traditional radio in its range and audio quality. Satellite radio offers near-CD quality sound and can deliver station signals across thousands of miles, rather than the typical 40 or so miles that you get with traditional radio. On long road trips, especially with the family in tow, that can be a plus. Sirius boasts three satellites and offers monthly subscription plans starting at $12.95. XM starts at $9.99 per month. Both companies offer products (tuners, receivers, antennas, etc.) to bring satellite radio into your home or car. Also, many late-model cars now offer satellite radio either as a standard or an optional feature.