In Orbit: XM and Sirius Take Satellite Radio to a Higher Level
Toto, Christian, The World and I
Christian Toto is a writer for The Washington Times.
Once upon a time, disc jockey Vin Scelsa believed radio's accessibility served as the industry's bedrock--a transistor radio and fistful of batteries is all one needs. Now, the veteran gabber isn't so sure.
Scelsa is spinning discs for Sirius radio these days, one of two satellite radio companies offering consumers a new way to hear music and talk.
The disc jockey's conversion may smack of pragmatism--his long-running Idiot's Delight program long ago ran out of homes on the commercial radio dial.
As the number of satellite radio subscribers continues to climb, it seems likely that Sirius and industry leader XM Satellite Radio could become the HBO and Showtime equivalent for commercial airwaves. That transition could be quicker if the industry's "killer app," radio bad boy Howard Stern, ever makes good on his threat to bring his crude show to censor-free satellite radio.
XM recently signed former NPR mainstay Bob Edwards for a morning slot, while Sirius landed Eminem to help flesh out its hip-hop content, moves which should bolster programming cachet of each.
Tom Taylor, editor of the industry trade publication Inside Radio, says content will be the ultimate factor in whether satellite thrives. "People subscribe to HBO because they wanna see The Sopranos," Taylor says. "It's content. What made cable successful is that it delivered programming that wasn't available [elsewhere]."
Taylor isn't so sure the HBO/satellite comparisons will work for much longer. "All analogies break down," he says, when the Internet wild card gets played. "I'd argue that the technical innovation that's hanging over everything in the media is wireless broadband." He adds that he can surf the Internet while riding in a car in his New Jersey neighborhood, thanks to the fledgling Wi-Fi technology.
Music-based Internet sites could allow for the kind of audio alternatives that satellite currently boasts, he says, lessening the need to shell out a monthly subscription rate. "It's one of many new technologies that will become a part of our lives," he says.
For now, the satellite radio companies can point to some promising news of their own. After picking up more than a million subscribers in just over eight months, XM Radio now claims a total of 2.1 million-plus. The company projects 20 million subscribers by 2010.
Sirius comes in second in the two-company race with 500,000 subscribers. They expect that number to double by year's end.
Arlington, Virginia, resident Gary Haney, 33, signed on to XM Radio a year ago September after being frustrated by the musical options on Washington, D. …