One hundred channels of coast-to-coast, static-free reception — how could an RVer ask for anything more?
By Jim Brightly
When I was growing up, one of the favorite pickup lines of the day was, “Where have you been all my life?” That old line came to mind recently after I had the opportunity to test a new type of radio service that promised crystal-clear sound quality anywhere in the contiguous United States. After giving this new technology a try, I found myself asking: “XM Satellite Radio, where have you been all my life?”
Imagine having 100 channels of your favorite music, sports programs, talk shows, and news at the touch of a button anywhere you happen to be in the contiguous United States. That’s what you get with satellite radio. With it you can say good-bye to issues related to reception and the need to scan local radio stations to find listening entertainment as you travel. XM Radio offers a variety of programs with superior digital-quality sound.
To check out this new technology, I first connected Sony’s “Plug and Play” XM receiver to my car stereo for a 30-mile drive from our home to Durango, Colorado. My wife and I live in a mountainous area of southwestern Colorado with notoriously poor radio reception. Normally the FM stations fade in and out on this drive, and receiving anything on the AM side is totally out of the question.
But what an incredible difference with XM Radio. Even to my tin ears, the music had CD clarity. And once I set the volume level, it stayed consistent throughout the trip — no fading, no sound swelling, and no static. Just beautiful sounds emanating from the speakers.
Fifty years ago, who would have thought anything like satellite radio was possible? Then, in October 1957, Russia launched the first satellite into outer space, opening a whole new part of the universe to technology. I don’t think even Arthur C. Clarke, author of the novel that became the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the man who is considered the father of the communications satellite, could have conceived of two geostationary satellites being used to broadcast entertainment for thousands of RVers, long-haul truckers, traveling salespeople, and others who enjoy listening to the radio.
A number of companies, including Alpine, Audiovox, Pioneer, and Sony, already are manufacturing XM-ready radios that can be installed in vehicles, as well as XM receivers that can be connected to an existing automotive radio to make it XM-capable. These units can be purchased at consumer electronics stores, in truck stops throughout the United States, and online. Several automobile manufacturers are making XM Radio available in their 2002 and 2003 models, and Fleetwood RV has become the first motorhome manufacturer to offer XM Radio, which will be an option on its 2003 American Coach line of motorhomes. For those who must know the current news and weather in the area they happen to be in, XM-ready radios and XM receivers connected to existing radios will still receive local AM and FM stations.
The only drawback I can see for those who give XM a try is that once you find a channel you like, it’s difficult to change the station. It’s like ordering the same meal at your favorite restaurant every time you go there. You’d like to try something new, but just can’t bring yourself to do so. That’s the way it was when I first started listening to XM Radio. I wanted to try some of the other channels, but the one I had on was so good, I couldn’t bring myself to change.
While outstanding reception and sound quality are important, XM’s real appeal is its programming variety. The channel guide includes 11 musical genres (Country, Hits, Rock, Classical, etc.) with a number of channels each. One of the categories, the Decades channels, immediately attracted my attention.
During the 1950s, when my wife and I were growing up in Southern California, everything was in flux, including the music. Swing was almost gone, and rock and roll was establishing its roots. As lovers listened to the music of Percy Faith, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin (with a little Jackie Gleason thrown in), we kids dialed in surfing songs, saxophone segues, guitar riffs, drum solos, and rock-and-roll artists from the East Coast. That’s the mix you’ll find on channel 5, along with knowledgeable disc jockeys, of which each channel has many.
We got married in the 1960s, so the music of that decade (channel 6) is very close to us. Channel 4 covers the Big Band era of the 1940s; channel 7 is devoted to the disco beat of the 1970s; channel 8 features songs from the 1980s; and channel 9 recalls the music of the 1990s.
As one moves up the dial, channel 10 is the first of six country stations, and the list goes on from there to include 71 music and 29 talk stations. The menu is so eclectic that anyone should be able to find something of interest. Some of the programming is reminiscent of early commercial-free FM radio broadcasts. At least 36 of the 100 channels available have no advertising, while others have a minimal amount of commercials.
XM’s programs are beamed from its broadcast center in Washington, D.C., to a pair of Boeing 702 satellites that maintain a constant orbit 22,000 miles above both the east and west coasts of the United States. The satellites then relay the programming back to individual XM receivers on Earth. XM’s coverage area includes the entire contiguous United States and approximately 200 miles into both Canada and Mexico.
XM’s static-free, coast-to-coast radio does come with a price: $9.99 per month plus a one-time activation fee. But for this low monthly cost, one theoretically could leave a campground near Disneyland (Anaheim, California) in one’s motorhome and pull into another campground near Disney World (Orlando, Florida) with the same channel still broadcasting beautifully over the sound system.
If you’re not sure that satellite radio is for you, check it out for yourself. If you have Internet access, click on www.xmradio.com. On the first page, you will find a small “Listen Now” icon in the upper-right-hand corner. Click on the icon and you can sample the types of music and programming available on many of the channels. If you’re like me, it won’t take long before you’re hooked on XM Radio.
Sony’s Plug And Play XM Radio
Sony’s Plug and Play XM receiver allows you to adapt your existing motorhome and automobile radios, or home stereo, to receive XM Radio for as low as $299. You can even plug a pair of powered speakers directly into the back of the receiver.
The Sony Satellite Radio Receiver for Car package includes everything you need to get XM radio in your vehicle — the receiver, a cassette adapter, a remote control, an antenna, a power cord, and the necessary wiring. Once your XM Radio service is activated, you simply insert the cassette adapter into your vehicle’s cassette tape player and you’ll be able to enjoy 100 channels of clear XM Radio. What makes this practical is that it can be moved from your motorhome to other vehicles, as long as they have radios with cassette players. During my test, I listened to it in a pickup truck, a Jeep, and a motorhome and received an excellent signal in all three vehicles. In addition, with an optional “docking station,” you can receive XM in both your coach and your stationary home using the same portable receiver.
If your vehicle’s radio doesn’t have a cassette player, don’t worry. Sony also offers a hardware package that allows it to be custom-installed directly to the back of your current radio. The receiver still can be disconnected from the installed wiring and moved from one vehicle to another.
The only problem with this portable unit, as I can determine, is deciding where to mount the magnet-based antenna on a motorhome. On type B or type C motorhomes with metal hoods, the antenna can be attached to the hood of the vehicle. On motorhomes with rubber roofs or fiberglass end caps, however, finding a spot to place the antenna may prove difficult. The easiest solution may be to screw a small metal plate (either galvanized or stainless steel) to the roof and seal the screw holes with silicone. When using the radio, simply affix the antenna to the plate, route the wiring to the receiver, and you’re ready to listen.