- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

Satellite radio for consumers for example, people in cars comes under the heading of moderately interesting technology with perhaps disturbing political implications. The idea is that a few satellites transmit the equivalent of a large number of radio stations to the entire United States. You subscribe for 10 or 15 bucks a month.The service is just becoming available and will, I'll guess, attract large numbers of subscribers. This, at any rate, is what the companies involved are guessing.
Why, how and who:
Everyone knows the annoyance of driving long distances and having radio station after radio station fade with distance. Then you have to fumble with the dial to look for a local station that plays something you are willing to listen to.In much of the country the prospects are dim: Often you can find only a few stations of any kind at all, probably playing something you don't like.
A couple of outfits decided to do something about it District-based XM Satellite Radio (www.xmradio.com) and Sirius (www.siriusradio.com). Both have satellites in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth, which means that they stay in the same place relative to the ground below.Both transmit large numbers of channels, a channel being equivalent to a radio station. (Sirius has 100, for example.) Both have news, music of all sorts, and there are some specialty channels, such as On the Road from XM, aimed especially at truckers.
The upside is substantial. Transmissions are digital, which makes for static-free clarity.When needed, as for example in cities where buildings might block the signal from the satellite, terrestrial repeaters will insure that the station remains steady.Anywhere in the United States, unless your tastes are truly odd, you will be able to listen to whatever cranks your tractor.You'll need, now at least, a special radio, but they are not terribly expensive, and I'll guess that if the service catches on, they'll become standard on new cars.
Great.Maybe.
The downside (sez me anyway) is that it represents a massive increase in at least the potential for central control of communications.This has been happening rapidly in the media.City after city has become a one-paper town.Television is dominated by centrally controlled producers of content, largely in Hollywood and New York.As we all know, only ideas and viewpoints popular with the ideologically fairly homogeneous folk in the media get play, either in print or on the screens of America.
Radio has been stubbornly resistant to ideological homogenization.Conservatives in particular have used radio as a way around the heavily liberal slant of the mainstream media. What will happen when we all have access to clear, high-grade radio, no matter where we are, from the same people, ideologically speaking, who now control the other media?
Check the satellite offerings and you find Bloomberg News Radio, CNBC, CNN, USA Today, National Public Radio, and the like. The satellite companies are headquartered in the heart of political correctness (XM in Washington, Sirius in New York.) These people, one may suspect, are not going to air voices unpopular in New York and Washington.
What is politically approved in these two cities will very likely rain down on all of us, everywhere.
What will this do to local radio?I don't know.XM and Sirius won't carry local content of course.If you live in Amarillo, Texas, Barstow, Calif., or Fredericksburg, Va., you may choose to listen to the local station for local news.Or you might tune in for the local news, then go back to all those clear channels for most of the day.If satellite catches on, how much will it hurt thousands of small stations?
The killer may be that much of satellite will be free of advertising. (This is complicated; see the sites for detailed info.) Whether it will remain ad-free is an open question. Cable TV originally claimed that it would be without ads, and then put them in anyway.But, one may wonder, what would the effect be of ad-less music channels? Ad-less talk radio
A lot of people, including me, don't listen to radio at all because of the ads.Others don't like the blaring sales pitches, but listen anyway.I wouldn't be surprised if people who wanted to listen to, say, country music simply abandoned the commercial-ridden terrestrial stations.Would this put out of business local stations which have no choice but to depend on ads?And thus further reduce the number of independent voices? What proportion of its listeners can a small station lose before going under?
Oddly, nobody seems to be talking about this.


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