The beaches are deserted, the kids are back in school, and I just finished driving home across the country at the end of my summer vacation. Sad, I know. Luckily, I had my trusty travel companion — my SiriusXM radio blasting away in my car. But was I alone in my adoration of those satellites? After endless dinners in small-town diners, one thing became apparent: America’s love affair with XM satellite radio is going strong.
While subscriber numbers hover around 20 million, it is clear to me that satellite radio is a viable choice for plenty of folks in America. For many, it may be the only option, and the best option too. Case in point: In a tiny town in the middle of Utah, two competing burger joints (across the street from each other) both play music. One pipes in a static-y, terrestrial radio station. It’s a '50s-themed restaurant, but can only pick up a country/western station from a town miles away. The other burger place has a distinctly bluesy feel, and has the SiriusXM-provided soundtrack to go with it. The foot-tapping crowd seemed to love it. Or maybe it was just the sweet potato fries talking. Another example: a pizza place in the southwest corner of Colorado provided a happening SiriusXM classic rock soundtrack that matches its classic railroad theme, and again, it fit right in.
Over and over, all across America, I saw people tuning into satellites. Listening to those soundtracks made me realize that while satellite radio might not be the coolest and hippest way to get your music, for many folks in America, it’s the easiest and most accessible option. Sure, Spotify, MOG, Pandora, and iTunes get all the press, but for people in my beloved flyover states — the wide-open spaces where 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi coverage may be a bit lacking — satellite is the way to go.
The listening choices are huge — not an infinite playlist, but it always seems to hit the right note. It made me chuckle that the first time all summer I heard “Sweet Home Alabama” was about 10 miles before I crossed the border into that sweet state. In a poignant moment, just as I was driving by the Vicksburg National Military Park Memorial at Vicksburg, a celebratory performance of Beethoven’s 9th in honor of the fall of the Berlin Wall was playing on the classical channel.
As more listening options appear on the horizon, we shouldn’t forget how fun, random, and oddly synchronistic radio can be. I was a fan of satellite radio when the first rockets were launched, and after this summer road trip, I can say that now I am an even bigger fan. Keep those birds flying high.
Leslie Shapiro has been an audio engineer for 25 years, with experience in television, film, and the music industry. She is also a member of NARAS, which gives her the coveted privilege of voting for the Grammy Awards.
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