Satellite Radio’s biggest problem – Part 1

It’s not the quality of the content or its variety.

It’s not the cost of the radios.

It’s not the cost of the subscription or whether or not satellite radio is “worth” paying for.

It boils down to two factors, and here’s the first one:

The process of acquiring satellite radio is a big hassle.

Lucky are the folks who get their satellite radio as part of their new automobile (the OEM portion of satellite’s market will, I predict, be a much greater fraction of new satellite installs in the future than in the past). On the other hand, that glues your radio to your car, and you may want one elsewhere.

Now it would be easy for the more zealous among us to say “what do you mean, it’s easy to acquire satellite radio,” but let’s map out the process for folks who are NOT buying a new car with a satellite radio optional or standard and who have already decided that satrad is right for them:

1. Go to store 2. Muddle through poor display and confusing array of radios and add-on equipment (compare the quality of the TV display area with the quality of the satellite radio display area in your local Best Buy and you’ll see what I mean. The satellite display generally looks like your arrival was directly preceded by a tornado). 3. Choose between Sirius and XM which seem so similar that it might be easier to stay with regular radio and avoid the decision altogether. 4. Buy radio, bring it home, and spend 30 – 60 minutes with chainsaw to remove radio from steel-coated plastic packaging. It’s just a radio – it’s not the Hope diamond! 5. Follow install directions for your car, creating eyesore display of dangling wires and cables. Spend another 30 – 60 minutes. 6. Watch in shock as the car unit you just adhered to your dash falls off before your eyes. Once that sticky stuff unsticks, you’re screwed pal. Did you do anything wrong? No. But your car rejects it like it’s a kidney with the wrong blood type. 7. Go to auto supply store for superstrong glue made for just this type of situation. Watch as car unit pitches like the leaning tower of Pisa until it finally falls off again. 8. Try the vent attachment which, gratefully, doesn’t require any finicky adhesive. Too bad you have to lose a vent in the process, but technology is about sacrifice, right? I mean for my iPod I sacrificed…oh well. I don’t know. 9. Call satrad company to register and turn on radio – another 30 minutes. 10. Realize, thanks to FCC, FM transmitter is for shit. You need a direct connection to your radio or to plug into AUX jack, if you have one. 11. Radio comes with weird “direct connect” unit that advises you to have installed by professional. Never had to do THAT with my regular radio or my iPod or my TV….Another call to support. 30 minutes. 12. Thank God for AUX jack. You just added one more cable to the mix. 13. Realize that to make radio work in your house you’ll need another add-on unit. 14. Back to store for add-on unit. 15. Back home realize you purchased the wrong home unit for your type of receiver because you didn’t know that certain receivers fit certain base units. “Why can’t they all just get along,” you sigh. 16. Return home unit to store for refund. They don’t have the home unit you need. Need to order that one online. 17. One week passes. New home unit arrives. Install and realize that antenna won’t work on any windowsill in house. Call to support – 30 minutes. “It has to be high and outside – just like a satellite TV antenna,” they tell you. You mean the satellite TV antenna that’s installed by a professional? Yes, that’s the one. 18. Order extra long cable to extend antenna. One week later, cable comes. 19. Attach cable and string it along corners, through door crack, outside and onto edge of roof. Looks ugly, but it gets the job done. What, you don’t want to drill a hole in your house for a radio? Not for a friggin’ radio, pal. 20. Works like a dream. Kick back and enjoy. 21. Daylight savings time kicks in, but nobody told your radio. As a result, it will record all the wrong stuff for the next three weeks. God Bless America. 22. Now that you’ve invested more time in your new radio than in your choice of a mate, it’s time to and enjoy satellite radio, assuming you’re not stuck in traffic under a bridge.

Now, to be clear, I love many of satellite’s offerings, really. And I’m glad they’re there. But let’s not pretend this is as easy as ordering an iPod and plugging it into your PC – or, needless to say, the brainlessly simple activity of turning on the radio you already have at home, at work, and in your car.

Hassle, not cost, is a serious impediment to satellite radio.

OEM is the future because it subtracts the hassle.

And for the in-store units, it would be the wise satellite radio company that spent its money to solve that problem.

In case you read my silly sequence of almost comical events and you’re thinking “come on, Mark, this would never happen,” then I say this unto you:

It happened to me.

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