Friday, August 28, 2015

Tech Report: SiriusXM A La Carte Satellite Radio Service

Doesn't it really annoy you as you're traveling along listening to a country station playing all the great vintage artists and music you love or you're listening to a news report or an interesting talk show or a baseball game on your radio and you "run out of string." What I mean by that is you've crossed into the fringe range for the station or it's an FM station and you've passed to the other side of a mountain or a stronger FM station overrides the station you were listening to. 

I know it always frosted me when that happened. Public radio is a perfect example. You're listening to a really great Terry Gross interview on her "Fresh Air" program and you run out of range. So, you start looking for another public radio station to pick up the program, but the only other public station has a classical music or jazz program on. NPR, PRI, APR and the other public radio program providers are syndicators. That means the public radio stations that subscribe to their programming services can program the programs anytime or any day in their schedule. You may not find "Fresh Air" on anywhere else that day as you progress.

I decided I would look into SiriusXM satellite radio as a possible solution. I hated the idea of paying about $16.00 a month for 150 or more stations of which I'd probably only listen to eight or ten on the outside. It's like cable TV. You pay a fortune for a majority of stations you'll never watch, but that's the "bundle." However, I had heard hints of a little known SiriusXM service called A La Carte.

The Deal

Here's the deal, you select any 50 stations from their line up (other than premium stations) and pay $7.99/month (plus the usual tacked on taxes and surcharges). It comes out to about $9.00/month. That caught my attention and to eliminate the problems I mentioned above. I was willing to pay $9.00/month with taxes.

So, here are the details. You have to search for the A La Carte subscription. SiriusXM really prefers for you to pay them a lot more money for stuff you don't want. They don't care about what you want. I'm going to make this easy for you, here's the direct link Once you're on the A La Carte subscription page on their site, you'll find that the service is not available on all Sirius receivers (it's not available on any XM receivers). You'll need to purchase a Sirius Starmate 8 receiver.

Okay! So that's another gotcha. They would like to extract another $119.99 from your pockets. However, Amazon will sell you the required Starmate 8 radio for $89.69 including free shipping. That's a clear savings of $30.00. Actually, when I purchased mine, there was some kind of sale or price reduction in effect and I believe I only paid about $63.00 for my Starmate 8.

The receiver includes a mobile docking station to mount in your vehicle, a 12 volt DC power connector and an antenna. It has a built in FM transmitter that can be preset for up to four FM channels on your vehicle's FM radio. The Starmate 8 transmits the satellite program to your car radio for you to listen to the Sirius channels on your A La Carte service.

Here's another tip from my personal experience. If your vehicle is new enough and has a radio with an auxiliary input jack, I would go from the audio output jack on the Starmate to your vehicle's radio aux. jack. If you don't have an aux jack but you have a cassette player, I'd buy an adapter that plugs into your cassette player. I found this to be a much more satisfying listening experience. The FM transmitter works fine, but it can be overridden by one or more powerful FM radio stations on the same channel or the adjacent channels. This can be especially problematic if you're in a large city urban area with a crowded FM band.

The Bottom Line

I'm glad I found the A La Carte service. It has made my travels much more enjoyable knowing I can always listen, uninterrupted, to my favorite kinds and eras of music, virtually all the talk and news channels including BBC and CBC, Bloomberg, NPR and so on. I also have some comedy channels when a little levity is in order. And, I'm an old time radio drama fan and enjoy Gunsmoke, Dragnet, The Shadow, The Whistler, Green Hornet, Suspense, Johnny Dollar and many other great old shows. And I don't want to forget shows like Fibber McGee & Molly, Our Miss Brooks, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and so many others.

There are some occasional satellite signal blackouts when I'm in a tunnel or the southern sky (where the satellites are) is blocked by a mountain or tall buildings. But, generally, I experience very little of this kind of problem. The signal from the satellites is usually very clean, always strong and, with 50 channels I personally picked, I still have more stations than I need. My normal listening is between about five channels. I have ten channels on the memory presets and the other 40 are easy to access. I should mention that I do pay an additional $.25 monthly charge to receive the Fox News Channel. But, since I have CNN, HLN, MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC, CBC, NPR and Fox Business News, I wanted the full compliment.

If you're a Howard Stern fan or a sports fan, you'll pay through the nose again. Satellite radio, like cable TV knows Stern fans and sports fans are irrationally connected to Stern or sports, so they soak them for just about the full-price of the higher priced services. So, be prepared if you have to have those channels.

The installation is simple and very fast. You can literally be listening to satellite radio programs within minutes. The receiver docking mount has pressure sensitive sticky tape on the bottom of the mount and once installed, it's very stable. The antenna is a very thin coaxial cable (this is the first time I've seen a coax cable this thin). There is enough cable attached to the antenna to mount it on your roof and carefully dress the cable back into the vehicle and attach it to the radio. As you can see from my photo, the antenna is a little larger in diameter than a silver dollar and it's maybe a half inch thick at it's thickest point. I just placed mine on my dashboard in plain view of the sky and taped it down. It works like a charm.

Is it worth the $9.00/month subscription charge? For me . . . absolutely! I can cruise, enjoy the scenery and listen to my favorite music, news, talk and old radio shows. For the lifestyle of a motorized vagabond, the price is very little to pay to have reliable radio in My McVansion.

Once again, I've included a link to Amazon for the Starmate 8 radio. As an Amazon affiliate, I'd appreciate it very much if you'd click on the link if you decide to purchase and subscribe so I may earn a small stipend from Amazon.  


Bob said...

Thanks for this article, I think I'll rejoin at this reduced rate etc.

Gypsy Jane said...

Also, many stations can be streamed via smartphone. We it your favorite station has an app. I get NPR stations and lots of Tennessee bluegrass this way.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

You're welcome, Bob. Sometimes, when you dig around a little, there are small treasures hiding just below the surface. For me, this is one of them. Enjoy!

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

You're right about that, Gypsy Jane. I listen to Pandora and all kind of things on my smartphone. But, it's not always practical when you're driving and going in and out of cell coverage. Also, those of us who enjoy the mobile lifestyle often find places to camp or dwell for short times where wireless coverage may be spotty or even non-existent But, satellite radio is there as long as you have an unobscured view of the southern sky. But, it is a small amount of monthly overhead.