The signals have never been stronger for satellite radio, the subscription service that beams hundreds of "stations" to your car or home.
In January, shock jock Howard Stern moved from FM to Sirius, one of the two satellite providers. XM - the other provider - signed longtime National Public Radio fixture Bob Edwards in 2004.
To help you decide if this soaring medium should be part of your future, we surveyed a national representative sample of several hundred current subscribers who listen in their cars, where most satellite radio is heard. Overall, 71 percent said they were highly satisfied with their service.
But paying for radio rankles even satellite's devotees. The cost of the service - $12.95 per month, or $142 per year, from either provider - topped their list of complaints. More than a third considered satellite radio to be only fair or poor for cost. Still, a whopping majority - 89 percent - said they definitely or probably would renew their current satellite subscriptions.
Yet while both Sirius and XM fared well in overall satisfaction, respondents reported some differences. For example: Although Sirius provided slightly better value than XM, the latter rated higher for sound quality and signal availability.
Both Sirius and XM offer scores of commercial-free music channels, several news and sports outlets, interviews, live concerts and traffic and weather for 20 metropolitan areas. Each, however, features exclusive content:
¢ In sports, Sirius carries the NFL and the NBA. XM broadcasts Major League Baseball and NASCAR.
¢ In talk radio, Sirius has NPR. XM has Edwards.
While most car manufacturers offer only Sirius or only XM as a factory- or dealer-installed feature, you can buy aftermarket receivers that integrate into your car's stereo.
There are several ways to hear satellite radio away from the car. Sirius and XM let subscribers listen to broadcasts on their Web sites using any Internet-enabled computer. If you plan to tune in without a PC, hand-held portables let you listen anywhere through headphones or by transmitting signals to a nearby FM radio. Costs, depending on the provider and the model, range from $150 to $330. As well, there are plug-and-play receivers ($50 to $170) that you can shuttle between car and home. Some require a home-use kit, $30 to $50.
Console receivers, for the home only, require a location for an antenna that can "see" the sky. There are several receivers for Sirius, costing from $250 to $300, but just one $250 XM model. You can add any of the above receivers to an existing account for $6.99 per month. The one-time activation charge for each receiver added is $10 online, or $15 by phone.