Some Sirius(XM) thoughts

Radio, and more, from on high.


Perhaps the title for this post should’ve been “Old geezer talks about satellite radio as if he’s never had it before, which is appropriate because he hasn’t.” However, that seemed a bit much, its accuracy notwithstanding.

Anyway . . .

Recently, I traded in a vehicle without SiriusXM for one with it.1 Mind you, I’d had plenty of exposure to this satellite radio service before, but only in my relatives’ cars and SUVs. At the ripe old age of eons, I now am experiencing it in a vehicle of my own for the first time.

I still have a few weeks to go on the three-month free trial of what SiriusXM calls its “XM All Access” package, which includes all of the several hundred SiriusXM channels for access not only through the car radio but also via streaming. In fact, as I type this, I’m listening to SiriusXM from a browser tab on the Mac. On days at the open-plan office2, I already was wearing headphones to mask the noise of nearby workers; but, until now, my listening choices were fairly repetitious. I mean, it’s not as if I have gigantic quantities of songs in my Apple Music playlists. Now, thanks to the SiriusXM app on my iPhone, I have tons of choices.

But it is a trial. And I still haven’t decided whether to go beyond that. I’ll get back to that subject later.

Whine, bitch, moan

Before I get to the reasons why I have some reluctance about continuing with this service when the free trial ends, I’ll address some of the service-based criticisms one often sees about SiriusXM.

If reading the web-based comments from those who gripe about SiriusXM programming3 can provide an accurate picture of what SiriusXM users think — and that’s a big “if,” in my view — it would seem that a lot of those users wish that:

  • The channels with announcers were, well, without announcers. “Shut up and play the music,” they say.

  • The music channels would play a much more varied playlist. “I hear the same [insert your preferred expletive] over and over again.”

  • The music channels didn’t feature such compressed audio. “It sounds like [again, the expletive].”

  • The simulcasts of programs like The Dan Patrick Show weren’t replete with commercials. “I thought this [expletive, once more] is supposed to be commercial-free!”

Jeeeez. Well, now . . .

  • If you want music without announcers4 and don’t want SiriusXM’s top-price XM All Access package, there is always the streaming-only SiriusXM Essentials package. Or Pandora (owned by and now integrated into SiriusXM, as you probably know). Or Spotify. Or Apple Music. And so on.
  • I can go either way on the short-playlist argument, but I think the whole idea of, say, the “70s on 7” channel is to have a short playlist, much like those of us Of A Certain Age got used to hearing back when it was the seventies and we were hearing that stuff on what then were “Top 40” or “CHR”5 stations. (In fairness, I’ve read that some people who once used the pre-merger XM Radio product say the playlists used to be a lot more varied. I wouldn’t know, having not listened to pre-merger programming from either Sirius or XM.)
  • It’s true that, strictly due to the limited amount of bandwidth each SiriusXM satellite channel can occupy, the audio quality of many of the music channels includes a lot of compression and processing. That, too, is best resolved by listening to the streaming version where possible.
    I would also note that, again, those of us who got used to music on AM radio — much less FM radio — as it sounded back in the day aren’t terribly troubled by this. And, let’s be honest, a lot of us old farts who prefer oldies-ish channels aren’t exactly still hearing those frequency peaks (although, ahem, I can, but I took very good care of my hearing back when many of my then-fellow “disc jockeys” were blasting their ears with full-volume audio fed into headphones, ignoring my clucking at them about the long-term bad effects of that practice).

  • Finally, the bitching about commercials on talk shows and/or simulcasts is just plain dumb, since those commercial breaks are part of that programming as SiriusXM receives it. Does SiriusXM insert commercials or “promos” of its own during these breaks? Yes. If it didn’t, you’d still be hearing commercials, but they’d simply be the commercials — or, perhaps, background “break music” — in the original feed. To my knowledge, there is no talk show out there that is commercial-free, no matter how you access it.

Now that you’ve decided I’m a pure and shameless apologist for SiriusXM, allow me to show you that you’re wrong.

Subscription or noose?

It’s clear that there’s a lot about the SiriusXM service that I like. So why did I say I’m not sure about subscribing to it after my free trial ends soon?

Let’s put it this way: if you’re a cord-cutter, weren’t you thrilled when you first realized you never again would have to deal with the cable TV “customer retention specialists” — the people paid specifically to make it ultra-hard for you to cancel your subscription or at least get a decently priced renewal deal — whenever the yearly, or bi-yearly, renewal time came around for your cable TV service? I know I was.

Problem is, SiriusXM employs a “customer retention” operation that puts cable companies to shame. Just do a search for horror stories about how much of a pain it is, once SiriusXM has your credit card on record, to cancel a SiriusXM subscription or get a decent price if you do want to renew.6

I hate negotiating prices, whether with car dealers or with “retention specialists.” If I could erase the world and remake it to suit me, everything would have a fixed price. There would be true “no-haggle” pricing. Unfortunately, that’s not how one buys a vehicle, and it’s also not how one deals with SiriusXM.

At this writing, the top-of-the-line XM All Access package, which is the only one I would consider having, has a list price — or let’s call it a sticker price, to keep the car-buying analogy sufficiently sound — of twenty-two bucks a month. However, you know what they say about buying vehicles: “Never pay the sticker price.” Numerous commenters on the web tell you that, when it’s time either to start a subscription or renew one, you should negotiate that number ’way, ’way down. The consensus seems to be that you ought to be able to get the “retention specialist” to give you twelve months’ worth of XM All Access for just a hundred bucks, which is less than half of what it’s supposed to cost.7

Of course, to do that, you have to go through all kinds of crappy negotiating.

First of all: while you can sign up with SiriusXM through its website, you must call8 to cancel or get the rate you want, if you can.

And how do you do this? Well, there’s a certain number to call, the “experts” say, as opposed to the usual one SiriusXM lists on its website. Often, you have to go through numerous calls — and all their accompanying on-hold time — and keep at it until you get a “retention specialist,” or a (supposed) manager of that person, who’ll give in. You’ll probably have to threaten to cancel, or actually cancel, several times in all of this rigamarole.

Then, of course, you have to rinse and repeat when it’s about time for that subscription to end. Also, you don’t dare wait too late if they do have your credit card on record, lest they auto-bill you for the higher amount they really want to charge.9

I actually have a life, so I’m doubtful as to whether it’s worth all that foofaraw. And, mind you, I like the service. I like it a lot. I’ll hate to give it up when the time comes soon, if that’s how I decide. But I have no desire to go through the agonies of the damned just to avoid being screwed by the “retention specialists” machine that generates SiriusXM’s subscription numbers.

If I could have my druthers, I’d just get the first person on the phone and say, “Look, I know the scam and so do you, and I already know the deal you guys are cutting others, so let’s just save both of us the time so you can take the next call and stick it to that person.10 Just give me the twelve-month, ninety-nine-buck deal for XM All Access, and we’ll both call it a day and get back to our respective rat-killings.” And that would be it.

Note: Please see the update at the end.

But that is, as I said, “if I could have my druthers.” In real life, I’m sure it would be nowhere near that easy.

(I’m sure what they’re doing is allowed under U. S. law, which isn’t saying much. But ethical? Nah.)

Worth the hoops?

So, in short, I’d say this: if you don’t mind the negotiation garbage I just described and you can get the package and pricing that will suit you, I’d definitely recommend SiriusXM, especially for the streaming part. Otherwise, stick to (other) streaming music providers, terrestrial radio stations, and/or whatever other competing programming sources ring your chimes.

As for me, I have a few more weeks11 to decide whether I like the service enough to jump through the negotiation hoops that a SiriusXM subscription unfortunately involves.

Update, 2020-05-22: Today, I saw an offer on the SiriusXM site for precisely the new-subscriber deal I wanted: one year of the All-Access package for $99 (not counting the music royalty fee and other stuff, of course, but I always knew that would be part of it, no matter what); so, two weeks after my freebie ended, I did go ahead and subscribe, after all. And I’ve already set a calendar reminder for May 15 of next year so I’ll have plenty time to go back and cancel in time to avoid auto-renewal at $22 a month (or whatever the rate is by then) — or, if I can, negotiate a fair renewal price.

  1. I did this not for SiriusXM, of course; it simply was part of the package. ↩︎

  2. At this writing, we still have to go there, rather than hunkering down at home to avoid the coronavirus. ↩︎

  3. And I mean the intelligent ones, not the ones who TYPE IN ALL CAPS or can’t spell or can’t punctuate or — ah, you get the idea. ↩︎

  4. As an old radio guy, I actually like radio with announcers and cheesy jingles. It gives me a nice feeling of nostalgia. Besides, if you knew how much work goes into all that stuff, perhaps you’d appreciate it more. Or not. But if it offends your sensibilities, as I note in the paragraph from which this footnote originated, you have options. ↩︎

  5. “Contemporary hit radio.” ↩︎

  6. Indeed, more than a few SiriusXM customers recommend paying for the service through only the prepaid SiriusXM cards you can buy, so as to avoid SiriusXM’s having access to your credit card. ↩︎

  7. For the more popular XM Select, which has fewer channels but the vast majority of those that the Reddit crowd seems to want, the sticker price is seventeen bucks a month but you’ll see lots of people bragging they got it down to six months for just thirty bucks, or thereabout. ↩︎

  8. That is, you must call unless you live in a jurisdiction, like California, that actually protects its residents with laws against this idiocy. However, Texas, where I live, couldn’t care less. ↩︎

  9. I’ve read some accounts that you can turn off the auto-billing access, which forces them to deal with you at renewal time without your having to remember to contact them, but I’m not clear on how easy that is and, not having yet subscribed, I have no story to tell about that. ↩︎

  10. Sorry if that sounds callous where the next person is concerned, but facts are stubborn things and all that. ↩︎

  11. My three-month freebie ends in early May, and I then could get another three “free” months — by signing up. Can you say, “Ka-ching”? ↩︎