XM Satellite Radio, a new digital radio service, makes many promises. But perhaps the one most likely to strike the heart of a veteran commuter - or anyone, for that matter, who has ever hit the great wide open in a set of wheels - is this: no static.
It's not an empty promise. XM, which launched in September, delivers 100 channels to subscribers via two satellites - wherever and whenever in the US. So, the same program you get in Orlando, you can get in Seattle. Because it's digital, the sound quality is on par with a CD. (Of course, should you venture into tunnels, expect the same fate as someone on a cellphone.)
Since FM was introduced more than 30 years ago, radio technology has remained virtually unchanged. While the concept for satellite radio has existed for nearly a decade, "it's only in recent years that you could get a satellite signal that was strong enough for a moving car," says XM CEO Hugh Panero. He predicts XM will do for radio what cable did for TV.
New stereos with XM compatibility are available at stores such as Circuit City and average about $150 more than stereos without XM. Plus, some GM car models already come equipped with AM/FM/XM radios. But older stereos and radios will need a separate receiver, which works much like a cable box. Sony and Pioneer both make the devices, ranging from about $250 to $300.
Unlike cable, subscriptions are one size fits all: $9.99 a month for 100 channels. Most of the channels carry original programming developed in XM's Washington studios. There are 71 music channels (30 of which are commercial-free) in addition to sports, talk, children's, and entertainment channels. A subscription also pays for several 24-hour news stations including CNN, Headline News, and the BBC World Service.