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Satellite Radio
Dale Maggio

Letís have a Sirius talk about radios. One of the hot trends radiating down on us nowadays is the introduction of satellite based radio broadcasts. Basically this is the same as satellite television. A service provider sends itís programming up to the bird (satellite, in broadcaster lingo) and the bird radiates the earth. The idea is: wherever you are, if you can see the sky, you can get the signal. You supposedly can drive coast to coast and never lose your favorite broadcast. You donít have to hunt for a new station city to city. 
The 2 contenders: XM and Sirius.  XM is larger in corporate size and money. Subscriptions run about $10/mo. Sirius runs about $13/mo. Both are commercial free, except when you select a re-broadcast, like ESPN or Grand Ole Opry . Both companies use birds and trees (land based antenna towers). Most trees are in metropolitan areas. For example, Sirius has 3 in the Bay Area, Mt. Sutro, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Uhmanum (thatís Um-in-Um to you foreigners). Both explain their programming at their web sites, listed at the end. So check out their web sites to see who carries the most of what you want. XM has a much larger sports base, Sirius has more specialty channels, like Opry, Elvis, and Rush and Howard. The system I chose was Sirius so most of my references are going to be based on experience with them.

Operation: Do you have to replace your current system? No. Both XM and Sirius work like the iPod. They re-broadcast a low level FM signal that your current FM radio will pick up. They generally have about 10 frequencies at the low or high end of the FM band that you can use. You find an empty channel on your dash radio and instruct your Sat radio to broadcast at that frequency. The inherent problem with this is that if you are on the road, empty frequencies suddenly fill in as you move to different areas. To cure this, some models have direct audio outputs which you can plug directly in if your dash radio has inputs for it.

Hardware: Systems are currently offered by AudioVox, JVC, Blaupunkt, and others. All have a starter kit which has the radio module, a cradle, antenna, and power supply (Cigarette lighter plug). All systems offer car or house kits where you can buy an extra cradle/antenna/power supply. The module, which is about the size of a Palm Pilot, and can be moved around to where you want it. And you donít pay extra!!!! (Gee, what a concept!!! Are you listening, Dish Network???) Most modules come with a remote control. The antennas are about the size and shape of a computer mouse and come with lead cable and connector pre-attached. These are VERY small and delicate: you will not be splicing your own wire in.

The Blaupunkt we purchased came with a 20ft lead wire on the antenna. The mouse antenna had a magnetic base. Placing the antenna on the dash worked poorly. The view of the sky is limited. So the only real way to get to the roof is up the refrigerator vent. (Unless youíre daring, like Harris and willing to drill the roof, right?) I put the antenna BEHIND the vent so the vent would be an air shield to protect the antenna during driving. In retrospect, I donít know if this was necessary and moving the antenna to the front would get me 2 ft more wire. The wire will be a few feet short either way: the connector will not make it to the center of the dash, unless you find another way in. Harris mounted his in front-center of his rig, and he had professional installers do it. By the way, how do I get a magnetic base to stick to a fiberglass roof? A small square of double-stick carpet tape made it to Quartzsite and back.

Installation: Stringing the antenna is the worst of it. After removing the Ďfridge vent lid, carefully peel back a corner of the insect wire. The antenna wire is too lightweight to drop down the vent on itís own. Lightly tape on a small weight to help it drop through. The wire can then sneak through the cabinetry or along the base. There is also the hole for the propane pipe entry for the refrig just at the base of the couch. The wire will make it to the driverís pillar comfortably. This is OK if you want to mount the unit there and then let the passenger work it with the remote. Personally, Iíd like it in the center of the dash whereís itís accessible to everyone.

The cradle comes with a base that either sticks on or screws on. The cradle pivots in virtually all directions so your choice of mounts and angles is pretty good. The module clicks into the cradle so you can even hang it overhead if you so desire. The system is well thought out. Power is supplied by a Cigarette lighter plug-in. Thatís it. Except for the antenna wire, itís very simple.

Opinion: I picked the Blaupunkt because of itís features, but the blue-backed display is hard to read in daylight and overpowering at night. The reception is annoying for me. You lose reception every time you lose sight of the sky. That means, tall trees, overpasses, tall hills. I even had dropouts in the middle of the Mojave desert. Maybe itís my unit. Harris has had much better luck with his Delphi unit. The programming is outstanding and a lot of fun. Most units can be programmed to look for certain songs or programs. For example, sports nuts can program in an alert every time wrestling comes on. You can even url your computer to the providerís web site and get streaming music while you work on something else. Dish Network subscribers can get Sirius over the dish. Once I get my hardware problems worked out, I think I will be very satisfied with the system. My wife loves it just as it is.

Units: Harris has the Delphi unit with an orange backlit display and he is very happy with it. I opted for the Blaupunkt and am fairly disappointed. It has a blue backlit display which lacks contrast and is hard to read in daylight. At night it is too bright. The brightness is adjustable but it is several menus deep in the setup area. Not something you want to do while driving or on a daily basis. The major bug is that the Blaupunkt runs on 7.4 volts. This means you must use their cigarette lighter adaptor and you must have their coil cord dangling on your dash. You cannot make a clean looking, permanent install of the cradle.

In The End: No radio can be used for both providers. Visit the web sites first and look at the programming. Decide who (XM or Sirius) has what you want. From there, go look at radios. Pick one whoís controls are easy for you understand and operate while driving. All have orange backlit displays except Blaupunkt. Since manufacturerís tell you very little on the packaging, check the back of the cradle out. Look for 12vdc operation so you can have a clean install. Look for a direct out (or audio out) so you can go straight into an amplifier without using the FM transmitter. A brightness control on the front panel would be nice, but I donít know if any manufacturer does that. One manufacturer has a module out that is a stand alone unit with batteries, antenna, and earphone output built in. You can carry it around like an iPod or put it in the cradle. The commercial-free, nonstop satellite radio is a wonderful concept and those of us that have it, highly recommend it.

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