Our VW Jetta from Hertz comes with a Sirius XM satellite radio, which offers 150 stations ranging from Top 40 hits to Howard Stern.
I know a lot of frequent travelers who swear by their Sirius. On long-haul drives, they say, there’s nothing better to relieve the boredom.
We have different perspective.
First, though, a few thoughts about the future of satellite radio. I’m no futurist, but it seems to me that once the oligopolistic grip of the wireless carriers is loosened, and we innovate our way out of the bandwidth deficit we currently find ourselves in, that satellite radio is doomed.
There’s no better way of streaming live programming than through an ultra-fast wireless connection, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
Anyway, to the question: is it worth paying extra to get Sirius in your car or minivan? That all depends on you.
For us, the first few days with Sirius were like visiting the midnight buffet on a cruise. Too much! We did more scan-and-stop than actual listening. Eventually we settled on the following six presets:
The Joint — That was my pick. I had a few days of alone time on this trip, and listening to Reggae was a close second to being in the islands. It has a reasonably good playlist, too, going beyond the Marley cliches that too many Reggae stations tend to get stuck in.
Coffeehouse — Better known as the punishment station. When the kids don’t behave, we threaten them with the all-acoustic Coffeehouse and we torture them with James Taylor.
80s on 8 — Kari and I preset this one. We like to call this one the singalong station, because we know all the words to every song. (Nothing gets the kids to roll their eyes faster than punching preset number 3.) What’s your favorite 80s anthem?
90s on 9 — This one, both the kids and adults can sing along to. It’s an interesting take on 90s music, light on the grunge and heavy on the crowd-pleasers. When there’s nothing good on 80s, this is our first choice.
Pulse — The kids voted on this one. It has a lot of the Top 40 action, but the playlist is deeper than our last choice. You’ll hear some older songs and some newer ones that haven’t yet climbed the charts. When the other hit station gets too repetitive, this is where we turn.
Hits 1 — Argh, the Top 40 station. Same three songs. But the kids can’t get enough of it. We call this the Earworm channel. Yeah, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
About halfway through our road trip, we realized that while it was really nice to have a satellite radio in the car, we could own the music we heard for the same price as a Sirius XM subscription. And we could listen to it any time, on any one of our devices. Never mind the streaming services like Rhapsody or the radio stations on the iTunes store, or the NPR News app for the iPhone or iPad.
I like the audio medium, but I have some firsthand experience as a content producer, commentator and host, and I think the good folks working in radio need a swift kick in the pants to get their digital game on. (During my last industry gig, co-hosting a radio show, everyone insisted on communicating by fax. I had to teach my colleagues how to use Google. It was 2009. Pathetic!)
Meantime, I won’t turn down a car with a satellite radio. But do I need one for my next road trip?