Monday, November 24, 2008

Alternatives to CBC Radio, Part II: Satellite Radio

I've been promising to write about my experience with satellite radio as an alternative to the classical music programming previously offered by CBC Radio Two. Well, I see it's been over a year since I made this promise, so I believe it's now time to talk about satellite radio in more detail.

For those of you who have tried listening to CDs, your iPod or streaming audio over the internet and have found all of these alternatives wanting, satellite radio may just be the alternative that you're looking for.

First, you will want to choose between Sirius and XM satellite radio if you're living in Canada. In the U.S., Sirius and XM have merged but it has yet to take place in Canada. Go to the Sirius or XM web sites and register for a trial subscription. You can listen to both on your PC (and I use the term "PC" here to refer to both Apple computers and non-Apple computers, although there are some anal-retentives who have been brainwashed by advertising and believe that the term "PC" refers only to personal computers which use a Microsoft OS, which is simply not true). Listen during your trial subscription and decide which is best for you.

The next step is to do as I advise, not as I did. What did I do, you may ask? I started small, going step-by-step. I should have jumped directly to my final installation, but I had to go through the learning process of each step before I found this out. You can save yourself several steps by learning from my experience. Or not.

First, I bought a satellite radio for the Sirius service, as well as a home kit. I installed the car kit (which comes with the radio) in my primary vehicle and set up the home kit with the Sirius receiver in the kitchen.

The home kit comes with a window antenna. The window antenna, as the name implies, can be installed inside the home on a window sill, or can be installed outside on the roof of the house. To install the antenna outside, you will likely need to purchase an extension cable as well as find a way to run the cable through the exterior of your home or apartment, condominium, thatched hut, cardboard box under a highway overpass, or wherever you happen to be living at the moment.

Wherever you install the antenna, it should have a clear view of the sky, the direction depending on the region of North America that you live in. In my region (North East Canada) the antenna needs to be facing West, Northwest or Southwest. I experimented with different locations for the antenna, finally settling on the interior of the house, just inside the first floor dining room window, even though the dining room window faces another two storey home and did not offer a completely unobstructed view of the sky. To improve the view of the sky I had to set the antenna on top of a step ladder.

This worked well for a time, but I would periodically lose reception. This typically seemed to occur between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. There would be sudden silence, and one was never sure whether it was a quiet segment of the piece being played or a loss of reception. Slight movement of the antenna to the left or right would often restore reception, but it was annoying to have to adjust the antenna several times a day. Also, the step ladder did not fit with the decor of the dining room. Of course, the problem was that dining room window did not offer a completely unobstructed view of the West, Northwest or Southwest. But then, if you consider your own dwelling, you will realize how difficult this may be to achieve.

I decided that a rooftop antenna was the only solution. I ordered a rooftop antenna from Dogstar Radio. There are other stores which sell the antenna, including Sirius, but the antenna was out of stock at Sirius when I needed it. Dogstar Radio had the antenna in stock, shipped it quickly and it was a hassle-free transaction. I highly recommend Dogstar Radio.

Once I had received the antenna in the mail, the next step was to install it on the roof. If you have a satellite TV mast, TV antenna or other such object on your rooftop, this should not be a problem. I, however, had nothing of the sort. You can, of course drill holes in your roof and screw the satellite radio base directly the roof or to the fascia on the roof siding, but this did not appeal to me.

Instead, I purchased a 45-degree ABS Y-coupler used for plumbing and a length of 2 inch diameter ABS pipe from Home Depot and installed the Y-coupler on the plumbing vent on the roof. I cut the 2 inch pipe to approximately 2 feet, stuck it into the smaller pipe of the "Y" and attached the antenna to the 2 inch pipe using the fittings provided with the antenna. Thus, no permanent damage was done to the roof.

I ran the cable through a vent in the roof and into the attic. Now, here's where I made another mistake. Having only one radio (in the kitchen) I decided to run the cable down through the second floor, down to the first floor kitchen where I could attach it to the radio. To do so, I had to remove one of the kitchen cabinets, drill a hole through the kitchen ceiling/second floor, run the cable under the bedroom carpeting, into a closet, then up through another hole in the bedroom ceiling and into the attic. While this wasn't a huge amount of work, as you will see later, I could have made my life much simpler.

After installing the satellite antenna, extension cable and satellite receiver in the kitchen, life was good. However, there was a problem - I had satellite radio only in the kitchen. I also wanted satellite radio in the bedroom (as do we all).

I could have purchased a cable splitter, then run another length of cable into the bedroom, but this was now becoming complicated. I discovered that there is a signal repeater system, also available from Sirius, called the "Sirius Echo". It consists of two devices - the Echo Transmitter and the Echo Antenna. The Echo Transmitter attaches to your satellite antenna, and the Echo Antenna attaches to your satellite receiver. The Echo Transmitter transmits the signal received over your antenna to the Echo Antenna attached to your receiver. You can have several Echo Antennas receiving from the same Echo Transmitter, and thus multiple satellite radio receivers spread throughout the house. So I ordered an Echo Transmitter (which comes with an Echo Antenna) and another Echo Antenna from my friends at Dogstar radio.

I set up the Echo Transmitter in the bedroom closet, although I could have just as easily set up the Echo Transmitter in the attic, and avoided the hassle of running the cable down into the second floor bedroom. I placed the first Echo Antenna in the kitchen, next to the satellite receiver, and the second Echo Antenna in the bedroom, next to my second satellite receiver.

The cable running down from the second floor bedroom into the kitchen now became unnecessary, since I had wireless transmission from the bedroom to the kitchen.

You can see now what I should have done from the beginning:

- decide how many satellite radios you wish to install in your abode

- install a rooftop antenna from the beginning

- purchase an Echo Transmitter and install it in central location, easily reached by the rooftop antenna. In my case this would have meant installing the Echo Transmitter in the attic, and avoiding all of the cable installations.

- purchase as many additional Echo Antennas as you need and install them throughout your abode

I installed all of this over a year ago - in September 2007, to be precise - and it has worked flawlessly since then. I highly recommend this set-up.

It should not need to be said, but I'll say it anyway: I have no relationship whatsoever with Sirius Satellite Radio, XM Satellite Radio or Dogstar Radio. I'm just a satisfied customer, of Sirius and Dogstar, at least. I never tried XM Satellite Radio, although I'm sure the service is just as satisfactory as Sirius. When organizations, products or services perform well, they should be praised and publicized. And when organizations (such as CBC Radio), products or services not live up to expectations, they should be castigated.


eatyourbeans said...

A worried inquiry from the States:

Has the CBS cancelled the annual Euroradio Joy to the World broadcast? I can't find mention of it anywhere on their website.

If you know what's going on, please drop me a line.

James Wooten said...


Thanks for your comment. I have not seen any mention of the Euroradio Christmas broadcast, and the CBC schedule for Christmas day only shows the normal weekly programs:

However, I'll watch out for it and post a blog entry when the schedule for Christmas day is announced.

I know CBC Radio Two had many listeners in the U.S. - it would be interesting to know what U.S. listeners think about the CBC's apparent attempts to self-destruct. Although, if you consider our own government's apparent attempts to self-destruct, you may be excused for believing that this is a national pastime.