By September 27, 2005

XM Radio review

Today’s Gibberish will feature a guest source, our own Lady Jaye. I installed an XM Radio Roady2 receiver in her car almost two weeks ago. She’s gone to work and back and all around in the meantime, and has given the XM channel lineup a decent work out.

Usage: How’s that Roady2 workin’ out fer ya?

We bought Lady Jaye a remote for the Roady2 — LJ found it too distracting to reach over to the Roady2 while driving to change the station. The remote is full featured — it lets you adjust everything on the Roady2 except for the menu selections, and is fairly small. The clip, IMO, faces the wrong way, so the remote is upside down if you were to clip it to your car windshield visor.

Thanks to hardwiring the Roady2 directly to Lady Jaye’s radio, the sound quality is awesome. You can use a wireless FM modulator to broadcast the satellite signal to a local FM channel (say, 80.9 or something), and they’ve all sucked. Don’t even think about buying XM if you have to use an FM modulator; you’ll be frustrated with the satellite reception and the FM transmission. One thing to understand about satellite radio (either XM or Sirius) is that the satellite signal is susceptible to tall trees, overpasses, or clusters of tall buildings. These things interfere with the satellite transmission from OUTER SPACE!! to your car, and you’ll just drop the signal for a few seconds. I was afraid of this when we installed Lady Jaye’s Roady2 antenna inside her car. It was easier for me to do so, but the roof is another obstruction between OUTER SPACE!! and the receiver. Luckily, we haven’t had any problems with reception, even in the heavily wooded part of Richmond in which we live. Your mileage will definitely vary.

So, the sound is great, the reception is great, now what about the programming? Well, that’s the disappointment.

Channel lineup: 150 channels of … shit we don’t listen to.

At the house, and in my car (thanks to the iPod), we listen to a fairly wide range of music. Rap, hip-hop, metal, rock ( long live metal \m/ ), pop, and there’s even some country on there. Well, just one country album. And I just took it off. Most importantly, we listen to a lot of the supergenre Electronica. For the purposes of this article include but are not limited to: Big Beat, techno, trance, dance, house, jungle, drums and bass, turntabilism, downbeat, breakbeat, and true electronica, such as Massive Attack or Portishead. Point being, it’s a decent range of music, and will be our listening preference guide for the rest of this write-up. If you like more “mainstream” music, then this part of the review may not apply to you.

Let’s break down the XM lineup. XM has over 150 channels, but not all of them are music. For example, there are 21 local channels for traffic and weather and one 24/7 emergency alert channel. These are utterly useless to us, as our market is not represented on any of these channels. Then there are 12 news channels, and 14 “talk and entertainment” channels. Sorry guys, I’m a free thinker and don’t need to be told what my opinion is. There are 14 sports channels, which isn’t necessarily bad per se, but doesn’t suit our listening habits as we cruise from the house to the gym or the mall. XM does have exclusive rights to Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and NASCAR (if you like NASCAR, which we don’t), so if you are a sports fan you may be interested in XM’s sports lineup. If we were like my boss Bullethead, who has a 90 minute commute each way, then the sports lineup is awesome. He quite frequently listens to Giants games on the way home.

Subtract those channels, as well as the 3 Christian channels, the 3 classical channels, the 3 comedy channels, and 7 country-only channels and we’re down to 87 channels right off the bat. We haven’t even eliminated the “least likely to listen to” channels, like the Decades type channels (music from the 40s, 60s, 80s, etc).

Remember all of those genres and subgenres of music we like? XM doesn’t really cater to our greatest loves, the Electronica supergenre. Out of the 150+ channels, there are 4 “Dance” channels, but one of them is disco. So there are really only three channels, and one of them, BPM, is a great techno channel, but it’s mindless BUMF BUMF BUMF BUMF BUMF music without much variation. The Move is described as “underground dance,” and that’s more of a trance channel — the kind of music you’d hear at a rave. So far, the lineup hasn’t been all that bad, but it’s very Paul Oakenfold/Paul van Dyk hyperfast mental traveling music. It’s actually AWFUL to listen to on the freeway, as it makes me want to drive fast — and I’m the passenger! So that leaves the Electronica channel, which isn’t bad at all, but doesn’t offer much variety. I’m definitely spoiled by SomaFM, which concentrates more on the Electronic music supergenre.

Lady Jaye comments that the other stations, the mainstream pop/hip-hop type, suffer from one of the same problems of terrestrial radio: heavy rotation. She’ll hear the same song several times a day. Jumping around channels doesn’t help either — if you go from the Top 20 on Channel 20 to Ethel (modern rock) to Squizz (hard alternative) you might hear the same song. By the time you jump back to the original station later in the day, the same song might be on again! Lady Jaye says that Ciara is in total heavy rotation, and hears the same few songs from her constantly.

Is XM radio worth $12.95 a month? At this point, I’d say yes if you don’t have any other alternative to terrestrial radio in your car like an mp3 player or a CD player that plays mp3 discs. Once I sell my Element and Lady Jaye inherits my iPod, we may put the Roady2 in the house, or we might just get cancel our subscription.

I can’t live without my radio!

  • Much better variety than terrestrial radio. Richmond doesn’t even have one electronica channel.
  • Something for everybody. The question is, how much “something” does it take to satisfy you?
  • Hardwiring the Roady2 to the head unit results in near CD-quality sound.
  • Blasting bluegrass as you spin out of a parking lot makes you giggle uncontrollably.


  • It’s like digital cable: hundreds of channels, but is there anything you really want to tune in to?
  • For our liking, XM needs to have more electronica-style music. They hardly play any downbeat, the “easy listening” of electronica. XM’s selection is centered around dance or high beat per minute music.
  • $13 a month is fairly hefty when we only really listen to 10% of their offering.

XM Radio, I award thee:

Three and a half out of five STFU mugs!

Posted in: music, review, technology

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