Radio - updated August 2009
by Chuck Husick
radio? Would you add another radio to your boat if it could bring
you 100 channels of digitally encoded audio regardless of where
in the continental U.S. you go boating? Would you pay a monthly
subscription fee of $10-13 for superior audio quality, commercial-free
music and a clear, static and distortion-free signal, even if you
boat up to about 200 miles offshore.
Two companies, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, offer
these two competing services. Designed primarily to serve the mobile
land market, their signals are broadcast directly from the satellite
to your receiver. While their programming is very much alike, the
two systems take different approaches to delivering their signals
to the user.
Recent business developments have led to the July, 2008 "merger" of XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio to form a single corporate entity, Sirius XM Satellite Radio. It is not clear at this time which of the two companies will emerge as the controlling entity, however it is likely that the existing service will continue, with the majority of changes occurring in behind-the-scenes overhead operations.
Both satellite services have provided weather information service using different weather data processing companies. Check with the manufacturer of your chartplotter If you are considering adding weather information service to ensure that the service you choose is compatible with the other on-board equipment.
XM uses two very large Boeing geostationary satellites (named Rock
and Roll) orbiting 23,000 miles above the equator and positioned
to provide coverage of the continent from coast to coast and beyond.
Sirius uses three satellites orbiting in a figure-eight pattern
at an altitude of 29,000 miles with continuous coverage assured
by having two of the satellites visible at all times.
Your interest in having either of these new entertainment/information
services on you rboat will likely depend on the local availability
of the off-the-air programming you like to hear. The wider your
cruising range, the more likely you are to want one of these geographically
unrestricted systems. Those who cruise long distances along and
offshore from the coasts will likely consider satellite radio a
Using either system is simpler than tuning in to a local AM or FM
station. Blocks of channel numbers are assigned to different content:
music, news, sports, comedy, talk and variety. In both services
the largest content group, music, is divided into categories including
classical,country, rock, R&B, urban, jazz & blues, dance,
variety, Latin etc. The receiver displays the name of the artist,
song title, channel name and number. Overall, the program organization
is like that used for cable or satellite TV.
Sending 100 channels of high-quality audio within the available
signal space requires the use of very sophisticated digital encoding,
broadly based on the MP3 technology used to compress audio for portable
music players. While each satellite radio provider uses different
methods of quality control for their sound, we doubt that the listener
will be able to detect the difference between the two systems.
Those of us who are not on our boats often enough to justify a fixed
receiver can use a plug-in receiver in a vehicle or at home when
not on the boat. These receivers translate the satellite signal
into a FM signal that plays through your existing FM radio and provides
FM quality sound. Some also provide audio signals that can connect
directly to your existing amplifier and yield CD quality or better
sound. Of course, what you hear from your boats speakers will
depend only in part on the type of satellite receiver you use; the
speakers are the critical link in any audio system.
Regardless of the technical niceties of either system, whether you
rush out and equip with this new gear will depend upon how appealing
the programming is. The fact that much of the music is totally commercial-free
may be a big selling point for some listeners. Sirius system receiver
prices range from less than $100 to about $300, for a complete kit,
including the necessary antenna. XM system prices are in the $200-300
range for a receiver/antenna kit.