How XM Radio Works

XM radio is one of the two primary satellite radio services in North America. The service is operated by Sirius XM Radio and publishes premium radio content in addition to more than 70 music channels, 39 news, ports, talk, and entertainment choices, 23 play-by-play sports channels, and 21 regional and weather channels. XM radio channels are identified by the prefix, “XM” prior to the channel number.

XM Radio History

XM Radio’s origins date to the 1988 formation of AMSC (American Mobile Satellite Corporation) which was a consortium of organizations that were focusing on offering the satellite broadcast of phone, data, and fax transmissions. Four years later, AMSC created a unit named the American Mobile Radio Corporation that focused on creating a satellite delivered radio service. The service was ultimately further spun off as XM Satellite Radio Holdings, Inc, in 1999. The commercial launch of the service was in September of 2001.

After seven years of being in business, XM and Sirius Satellite Radio formally announced the merger of the two companies with FCC approval on July 29th, 2008. The new company is known as Sirius XM Radio, Inc. that has XM Satellite Radio, Inc as a subsidiary. The new channel lineups started being broadcast in November of 2008, and the XM Satellite Radio, Inc. subsidiary was dissolved in early 2011.

How Does XM Radio Work?

XM Radio programming is distributed via three satellites that are in geostationary orbit above the equator. The satellites are named: XM-3 (“Rhythm”), XM-2 (“Rock”), and XM-1 (“Roll”). XM-1 and XM-2 are located at 115° west longitude and XM-3 is located at 85° west longitude. The satellites combined with a grouping of ground-based repeaters help ensure uninterrupted service for XM radio through the North American continent.

Prior to a song being broadcast over the XM network, it is transferred or recorded into a high bit rate data format (approximately 384kb/sec) to help preserve the quality of the song. Additionally, all songs are catalogued and organized in the same manner when saved to the digital library. The music DJ’s at each XM station are then able to select single tracks or a full album to play-back in 15 to 30 minute blocks of time. DJ’s are also able to preview the music and have access to the control system that is used to encode the tracks using the aacPlus Codec.

Every one of the XM channels have an associated encoder. This encoder is able to transmit the required digital files for the station to a multiplexer. At the multiplexer, the files are combined with the content from the other XM channels that are live on the network. Once all of the channel content is received by the XM multiplexer, the digital stream is modulated into a RF carrier signal. The carrier is transmitted in the S-band (2332.5 – 2345.0 MHz) to one of the three XM satellites.

Each of the XM satellites transmits encoded signals back to Earth. Consumer-level antennas connected to XM receivers in vehicles or in the home are then able to pick up the frequency. Since the signal is only decoded once by consumer receivers, there is no loss of quality due to the music content being continually encoded and recoded.

Who Provides Satellite Radio Service in North America?

For North American consumers, XM Sirius radio is the only satellite option available at the time of this writing. Previous to the XM-Sirius merger, consumers had a choice between the two services, with each providing large amounts of mainstream and niche content. Since the merger, Sirius XM is able to provide one of the most diverse content libraries on the market at a higher resolution than found with HD or digital radio stations. At the time of this writing, the primary competition to satellite radio are streaming Internet services such as Spotify and Pandora that can be streamed to mobile-connected automobiles or smart phones to provide service to consumers while on the road.

XM Radio Features

At the time of this writing, XM radio features 150 channels of which 69 are commercial-free music channels. There are also 30 news, sports, talk, and variety channels, 20 traffic and weather channels, three comedy, two premium, and one special features channel. XM launched a special XM Emergency Alert channel in 2004. This channel is designed to provide listeners with updated information during weather emergencies, natural disasters, and other hazardous incidents that occur. The XM Emergency station also provides shelter locations, evacuation routes, and other related weather information for impacted areas.

What is XM Radio Online?

With the majority of XM radio subscriptions on the market today, the consumer gets access to XM Radio Online as part of one’s monthly bill. This allows the consumer to enjoy XM radio via the Internet; however the to enjoy the music you have to register for the service using the XM Radio ID provided when signing up for XM. Some consumers get confused, and think that the XM Radio online account is the same as the one created for XM radio for the car or home. Although, many of the account subscriptions provide XM online access, you do have to sign-up for a new account.

Step 1 – Display your XM Radio ID by tuning the radio to channel 0. Channel 0 is located one channel down from the XM Preview channel. Alternatively, the XM Radio ID is also located on the outside of the XM receiver packaging.

Step 2 – Ensure that you do not mistakenly identify numbers for the letters, “I”, “O”, “S” and “F” which are not used in XM Radio ID’s.

Step 3 – Launch your computer’s web browser and navigate to the XM Radio online’s website, http://www.xmradio.com/player/account/subscriber.action.

Step 4 – Enter the following information in the applicable text field on the XM Radio account sign-up page: Radio ID, Billing Zip Code, First Name, Last Name, Email (twice), and an account password (twice).

Step 5 – Accept the XM Radio online term’s of service by checking the blank check box and proceed with the account authentication to enjoy XM Radio online.

How Do You Sign-up for XM Radio?

If you own a car that did not include XM radio when purchased, the appropriate XM radio receiver must be purchased in order to receive XM radio in one’s automobile.

Step 1 – Purchase an XM radio receiver from a local audio or retail chain store. The service cannot be activated until a receiver is purchased.

Step 2 – Record or annotate the identification numbers included with the XM radio receiver after purchase. The XM Radio ID will be located on both the unit and sometimes included on a separate identification card included in the radio box. The account billing zip code used for the purchase of the receiver will need to be recorded as well.

Step 3 – Launch the web browser on your computer and  load the Sirius XM Radio website.

Step 4 – Select the “How Do I Active a Radio” menu link located on the left-hand side of the website and click the “Activate my radio” menu button.

Step 5 – Enter the account information for your new Sirius XM radio account. This information will include your full name, email address, security questions (and answers), and the service and billing address for the account.

Step 6 – Select a Sirius XM account package. The various packages include: Select, Premier, and Internet Radio. Sirius XM allows new subscribers to pay on a monthly or annual basis for new accounts.
Step 7 – Choose the Sirius XM plan length for your new account.

Step 8 – Review the account setup. Enter the appropriate billing information if not already completed.

Step 9 – Complete and activate the new Sirius XM account

Step 10 – Install the XM radio receiver in the automobile. If you do not know how to install the receiver, seek out a professional installation service in your local area before proceeding. Many businesses that sell the Sirius XM receivers will also offer a low-cost installation service.

Step 11 – After the receiver is installed in your vehicle, turn the radio on. Then, change the channel to channel. 1.

Step 12 – Scroll through the channels on the radio receiver to verify the new account was activated. After setting up a new account online, it can take up to one hour for activation to occur.

Step 13 – Alternatively, you can activate Sirius XM Radio service via the phone. To do so, first make sure your automobile is not located in a garage (so that it can receive the satellite signal for the service). Then, call 1-866-635-8634. At the telephone prompt, provide the XM Radio ID or ESN. Verbally say “Yes” to start activating the XM radio signal when prompted by the phone recording. Continue to listen to the phone instructions to activate the account which will finish the activation process while you are on the phone.

Sirius XM Radio for Business

Sirius XM Radio now provides business accounts to allow organizations to take advantage of the company’s extensive programming and music library. The business account provides a wide range of offerings to include hotel music, office music, restaurant music, and even “On Hold” music for phone systems. The Sirius XM business account comes in at a slightly higher per-month rate, $29.95 USD, at the time of this writing; however, lower rates are available when signing a multi-year commitment with the company. A unique twist for the multi-year contracts is that the company will allow business customers to stop service at any time without a penalty.

A common mistake that small businesses who play music for the public make is failing to take into account the various licensing fees required in the United States: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Sirius XM business accounts pay these fees that would normally be incurred when playing MP3’s, the radio, or CD’s for overhead music at a business.

Sirius XM radio provides two options for business customers to play the service once subscribed: via the Internet service or using a SiriusXM TTR1D Internet Radio receiver. The Internet radio service is similar to that provided to consumers with access to 85 channels that include 30 which have programming without interruptions tailored for the business music customer. Each of these options does require access to high speed Internet to take advantage of.

For business customers who still want to leverage Sirius XM Radio for their business without high speed Internet access, the service will also work on any Sirius XM Radio receiver capable of installation in a business or home. The service is available in the continental United States only, and specific installation options can be discussed with customer service representatives via the Sirius XM Radio customer service phone line, 1-866-345-SIRIUS (7474).

How Much Does Sirius XM Radio Cost?

The cost of Sirius XM radio depends on the subscription package. XM radio also provides a significant cost break for customers who want to save money by subscribing to the service for the full year.

Sirius XM All Access

The Sirius XM All Access package provides all channels on the satellite radio in addition to the benefit of enjoying the Sirius XM Internet Radio service. The service provides all premium programming and more than 160 channels available to listen to on a computer, tablet, smartphone, or Internet-capable device. At the time of this writing, the service cost $199 USD per year.

SiriusXM Premier

The Sirius XM Premier package provides more than 175 channels of programming to include: commercial-free music, news, talk, entertainment, and sports programming. Premium services include all NFL games, Oprah Radio, all MLB/NHL games, and every Nascar race. There are more than 20 Xtra channels included with the package that include Sirius XM Latino which includes a number of channels dedicated to Spanish language programming. At the time of this writing, the service cost $17.99 USD per  month.

SiriusXM Select

The Sirius XM Select package provides more than 165 channels of programming to include:  sports, news, talk, entertainment, and commercial-free music. Consumers also get a selection of premium radio programming to include Opie & Anthony, Bob Edwards, Oprah Radio, and every MLB and NHL game. There are more than 20 Xtra channels included with the package to include several that are dedicated to Spanish language programming. At the time of this writing, the service cost $14.49 per month.

SiriusXM Internet Radio

For consumers who only want to enjoy Sirius XM Radio via the Internet, the company offers the Sirius XM Internet Radio package. It includes more than 155 channels of Sirius XM Radio that can be enjoyed on any Internet capable computer, smartphone, or tablet. At the time of this writing, the service cost $14.49 per month.

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