Satellite radio vs. traditional radio: Which is better?


Fact Box

  • Sirius Satellite Radio officially launched in 2002; however, the company merged with its greatest competitor, XM Satellite Radio, in 2008 to create Sirius XM Satellite Radio, the only satellite radio provider in the US. 
  • SiriusXM Satellite Radio had just over 34 million subscribers by the close of 2020.
  • Most traditional FM radio signals can be broadcast up to 30 or 40 miles away from their source, while satellite radio signals can travel over 20,000 miles.
  • The first commercial radio station, KDKA, was based in Pittsburgh, PA, and began broadcasting in 1920. 
  • Radio stations are named according to the general rule that stations east of the Mississippi River begin with the letter ‘W’ and stations to the west start with the letter ‘K.’

Amanda (Traditional)

While at one time there may have been an argument in favor of satellite radio over traditional radio, nowadays, satellite service simply doesn't offer enough of an incentive to make the switch.

First, the obvious point: traditional radio is free! Why pay for something if you don't have to? Sure, subscribing to a satellite service usually means you can go commercial-free, but there are plenty of traditional stations, such as those run by NPR, PRI, and other public radio networks, that do not feature ads. 

Second, satellite radio may have offered an advantage before the rise of streaming services since it wasn't regionally determined, but these days, most radio stations are also available via live streams online. Someone can listen to their local college station even if they're halfway around the world--or they can even route a radio station from the Netherlands to their TV and listen to it in surround sound.

Third, there's a certain level of discovery offered by traditional radio--because of its regionality--that satellite simply can't provide. Extremely local micro stations are generally found accidentally while scanning through the radio, such as this one, only available within a particular neighborhood in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, many bands that don't yet have a national following can be given a boost when local shows play their music without worrying about corporate gatekeeping. Satellite radio can target hyper-specific tastes but lacks that organic growth. 

Finally, there are no competitive satellite services in the United States anymore; whatever stations SiriusXM offers, that's all you get. With so many other options on the table now, that limitation just doesn't cut it.

Haley (Satellite)

Despite the popularity of Spotify and Apple Music, most Americans still listen to the radio every week. And the best form of radio, by far, is satellite radio--especially if you are someone who spends a lot of time in the car--as it allows you to discover new music in genres you love instead of listening to the same playlists over and over.

Traditional radio is free to access, but it has a limited number of stations and frequent advertisements between songs. Satellite radio has a subscription cost, similar to movie and TV streaming services, and as a result, offers many more benefits, especially for those with niche musical tastes. Satellite radio is ad-free--except for talk shows like Howard Stern--so your listening is never interrupted. And it also features a much greater variety of music--including dozens of different genres and languages. 

Further, satellite radio is often clearer in quality than traditional radio, as it is broadcast by satellites instead of conventional AM/FM radio frequencies, which are susceptible to interference from other electronic devices. With the wide range of coverage provided by satellite radio, you will never need to worry about losing a station on a long drive.

While traditional radio is acceptable for many, anyone who drives regularly will quickly tire of the lack of diversity and repeated advertisements. So if you commute to work every day, have a road trip planned in the future, or simply can’t stand the ads, satellite radio is the way to go.

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