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Archive for Friday, November 5, 2004

Listeners weigh advantages of satellite radio

November 5, 2004

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Steve Vukelich was tired of regular radio.

Tired of commercials. Tired of flipping through the dial without finding anything he wanted to hear. Tired of getting bored during his three-minute car rides to work.

Sure, regular radio was FREE. But it wasn't fun anymore. So last Christmas, Vukelich signed up to pay $14 a month for nationwide satellite radio service -- and tossed regular radio overboard.

"The benefits of having commercial-free is just tremendous," says Vukelich, a Lawrence architect and hip-hop fan. "Way more variety on the satellite radio. Whatever you're in the mood for, any particular time, you can just flip through."

Vukelich's story is still rare. The two biggest satellite radio firms -- XM and Sirius -- have a combined 2.5 million subscribers nationwide.

But audio stores say the rate of satellite radio system sales are increasing in Lawrence. And local radio stations say they're trying to figure out how to meet the new competition.

"While I think it will hurt us, I don't think we'll go away," says Janet Campbell, general manager of Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence.

Already, satellite radio is changing the face of Lawrence broadcasting. KPR's comedy show, "Right Between the Ears," is broadcast on Sirius. And Kansas University is negotiating with the same company to broadcast play-by-play of basketball games this season.

"You always have to keep an eye out for what's going to happen, and be ready to use technology to benefit the athletics program," says Jim Marchiony, KU's associate athletic director. "We want to be on the cutting edge of technological advances."

Fresh attention

Steve Vukelich is one of a growing number of satellite radio
subscribers in Lawrence. Vukelich has a Sirius system installed in
his car.

Steve Vukelich is one of a growing number of satellite radio subscribers in Lawrence. Vukelich has a Sirius system installed in his car.

Satellite radio has earned a lot of attention in 2004, with shock jock Howard Stern signing a multimillion-dollar contract with Sirius, and former National Public Radio host Bob Edwards taking his act less lucratively to XM.

"We get people in every day who are at least interested in the service," says Mike Wagner, an installation and sales manager at Kief's Audio-Video Inc., which sells both services. "Installs, we do a couple a week. Every month, it seems to increase more and more -- from last year, I'd say it's doubled."

Subscribers have to buy special equipment -- Vukelich says he paid about $150 to equip his car -- and pay a monthly fee to receive the signals. According to their Web sites, Sirius charges $12.95 a month; XM is $9.99 per month.

Both services offer more than 60 music stations -- broken down into genres and sub-genres, such as classic country, progressive country, old-time country, bluegrass, folk and top country hits -- and more than 50 channels each of sports, news and other talk radio.

That variety attracted Vukelich.







"I can change anything based on my mood," he says. "I can listen to hip-hop one day, then the next day I'll listen to jazz. Or maybe I want to find out what's going on, listen to a news station or get some comedy. That's stuff you can't get on broadcast."

Local broadcasts

But managers at Lawrence's three broadcast radio companies -- KPR (91.5 FM), KJHK (90.7 FM) and the sister stations KLZR (105.9 FM) and KLWN (1320 AM) -- say satellite radio's nationwide networks don't offer Lawrence news, Lawrence sports or Lawrence weather.

"We have to be part of the fiber of the communities that we're in," says Hank Booth, a consultant to and former general manager of KLZR and KLWN. "The radio stations that do that will succeed."

Booth adds: "I hope the Red Cross doesn't call Sirius up and ask them to help with the local blood drive."

In fact, the biggest criticism of broadcasters in recent years is that they've abandoned the distinctiveness of their local communities in favor of narrow-but-profitable formats that can't be differentiated town-to-town, up-and-down the dial.

Satellite radio, then, might force many broadcasters to return to their local roots in order to survive and thrive.

"I would hope satellite radio and Internet radio would encourage FM stations to be more local," says Andrew Dierks, general manager of KU's student-run KJHK.

Already, Booth claims, he's planning an expansion of his stations' once-strong -- but recently diminished -- local news operations.

"It's something I've been looking forward to, and now it's going to happen," Booth says.

But Vukelich, for one, says he doesn't miss local radio stations. In any case, he expects to someday find those stations on his satellite dial.

"It's going to follow a path similar to satellite TV," he says. "At some point the local channels will be on there."

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