Sirius radio reception and channel question
September 12, 2008 7:50 AM   Subscribe

New Sirius radio subscriber with questions for MeFi...

I just added a Starmate 5 Sirius receiver to my car. In a week or so I will take it in for hardwiring to my deck so I don't have to deal with the FM transmitter. Questions:

1: Is there an aftermarket antenna that would improve the strength of my signal reception over and above the flat silver-dollar sized doohickie I have currently? I get 2 bars of strength most areas and it takes at least thirty seconds for the unit to grab a signal when I start the car.

2: Favorite channels? I love Left Of Center, but any MeFites who have other favorites, I'd appreciate it. I'm a bit overwhelmed.

Any other tips appreciated prior to installation.
posted by docpops to Technology (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can't answer the antenna question, although that seems like an awfully long time to acquire a signal. I live in the middle of a city where tall buildings and trees abound and I almost never have to wait more than ten seconds (have the whole thing going through my alpine deck with no Sirius tuner present.)

Favorite channels? Good gracious, there are so many. However, the presets I listen to most often are channel 8 (Big 80's), channel 22 (First Wave - probably my favorite channel they offer. Mid 80's - Early 90s' alternative back when alternative was only a minor marketing scheme as opposed to the major suck it is today) channel 24 (Lithium - Grunge for the most part. I'm a child of that era), channel 25 (Underground Garage - some FANTASTIC eclectic stuff), channel 26 (Left of Center as you've already found), channel 35 (Chill - downbeat electronic), channel 118 (Radio Classics - so much fun, except the jokes on the comedy shows are painfully dated), and 140 (BBC World Service.)

I've only been a subscriber since January however and have barely scratched the surface. Invariably I find a new channel a week that becomes my new favorite flavor for a bit. I only hope that with this merger with XM more channels will become available (all Led Zeppelin channel? I'm in.)
posted by Rewind at 8:07 AM on September 12, 2008

Where is your antenna placed? When they say it has to be on the roof of the car, they aren't kidding. If it's on the dash - anywhere inside the car - it won't get good reception.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:11 AM on September 12, 2008

Response by poster: Great tips rewind - sounds like we have similar interests. Thanks.

Ikkyu, right now I placed it on the right side of the roof, about ten inches from the right door and three inches back from the windshield. I have a RAV4, so the only place it won't get in the way of the roof rack would be in this strip of metal between the sunroof and windshield. Technically I could place it dead center but haven't done so just due to the exposed wire issue. Maybe I should try that but it seems like a hail mary.

I mainly ask the community about the antenna because I suspect, perhaps cynically so, that if I ask my HiFi dealer he'll give me an unequivocal yes. Maybe if it's not a lot of cash it's worth it anyway just to have a fixed unit, but at least then I might spend the extra cash for a better antenna if I did go with a permanent unit.
posted by docpops at 8:25 AM on September 12, 2008

134 NPR Now, Talk of the Nation and On the Media & 135 NPR Talk, The Diane Rehm Show
posted by mlis at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2008

Yes, the antenna most definitely has to be on the roof of the car. Really. Don't even bother with it anywhere else. Also (and this isn't an issue now, but in the winter...) snow buildup will definitely have an effect.

Sorry if it's too obvious, but if you're starting your car in a garage, it won't get a signal until after you've gotten into the great outdoors, as well.

It's my understanding that if you're in an urban center with tall buildings, there are usually ground repeaters that broadcast the signal as well.

And yeah, get rid of the FM asap. Sirius is pushing this as well -- there are a ton of commercials on the talk stations about getting a "direct" connection. The FCC simply doesn't allow the FM signal strength to be strong enough to be any good. In Canada, the radios come with an extra little piece of wire that improves the signal, b/c our regulations aren't quite as strict.
posted by cgg at 8:30 AM on September 12, 2008

I guess I should clarify -- that extra piece of wire improves the FM signal, not the sirius one.
posted by cgg at 8:33 AM on September 12, 2008

Response by poster: cgg - thanks. It's good to know I'm not imagining this. The reception quality sucks. My ipod transmitter from DLO is ten times better and still sucks also but it's almost criminal that Sirius does this. I bought it knowing I'd be shelling out another few hundred for install so it's fine. I'll just be that much happier having endured the suckage for a few weeks.

MLIS - I listened to NPR Now - stupid question, though, is it really the real time broadcast? In Oregon I guess I'm used to hearing a different line-up with what I guess is more of OPB's influence.
posted by docpops at 8:45 AM on September 12, 2008

and 140 (BBC World Service.)

Whoops - sorry about that. Channel 141 is BBC World Service. Channel 140 is the World Radio Network which features taped news shows from various countries around the world. Another good station, but not in the same league as World Service.
posted by Rewind at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2008

If you're an area with a lot of tree cover and it's at all possible, you could try moving your antenna to the left side of your car. Where I live and drive, an antenna on the left side *inside* my car (with window exposure) even seems to work better than outside on the right.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:26 AM on September 12, 2008

Do you live near Portland, docpops? If so, satellite signal might not be the issue, since there's a terrestrial repeater (referenced halfway down the page) near there. Actually, if you are on the edge of a terrestrial signal you could have problems, depending on the receiver:

Some people have a bit of trouble if they live on the edge of a repeater signal, where both the terrestrial and satellite signals are equally strong for much of the day. If this is the case, it would likely be a good idea to shield either the side or top of the antenna with something metal to allow it easily select one signal or the other. This is likely an issue that will be resolved with newer generation radios.

posted by SteveInMaine at 9:35 AM on September 12, 2008

The Dead Channel. It is my preset 1, but I cannot remember what the Sirrius number is.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:59 AM on September 12, 2008

I have XM and my radio has a mode where it tells me the db gain of the antenna. I use this mode to place the antenna on the best spot on my dashboard. It works fine. Im sure the roof would be better but then I'd need to spring for a professional installer. Have you tried this mode yet?

Also, its worth noting that some cars have a special film on the windshield that messes with reception. You should see if you have this. If you do then you must put it on the roof.

Lastly, its odd that it waits 30 seconds to get any signal while stationary. You might have a bad radio.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:23 AM on September 12, 2008

Faves: Disorder has a bunch of great shows - David Johansen has a great show (although he does put on Trio Las Chapas a bit too much for me, and his opera goes as far as Callas), there's a great Dylan show and Idiot's Delight is a treat for me.
You have to track down Mojo Nixon too - he has some of the best radio ever. I've heard him on several different formats, and his recent show on the Springsteen channel was one of the best I've heard. Little Steven's Garage is terrific (can't get enough of the Chesterfield Kings)....I think you can understand how much I enjoy having satellite radio. (And yes, we bought it for Howard and stayed for the music.) Shooter Jennings has a great genre-crossing country show too.
Finally, lots of good public radio too... (no linkies since everything is blocked at work, but I trust you will find everything.) Loads of stuff to discover, and you get to listen online as well.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 10:48 AM on September 12, 2008

If you like the stuff on Left of Center, you will almost certainly enjoy Sirius channel 86 aka CBC Radio 3. Mostly Canadian ( and some international ) indie bands, nice low rotation. It always seems like there's new music coming on, and I hear the same tunes enough to get to know them.

See the website for mp3 streaming of (most of) the same content, and lots and lots of concerts, sessions and songs to stream, and band info, etc etc.
posted by toddje at 11:25 AM on September 12, 2008

Howard 100- 24x7. Truly the only reason to own Sirius. NSFW
posted by Gungho at 12:05 PM on September 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good suggestions. I'll start programming them in tonight.

SIM - that's a neat link - thank-you.
posted by docpops at 12:43 PM on September 12, 2008

Seconding Lithium and First Wave. (The latter tends to play a LOT of Smiths and Depeche Mode, so be warned.)
posted by Lucinda at 3:44 PM on September 12, 2008

Music stations: I dig 18 The Spectrum and 30 Coffee House, though 30's PD must have been the bass player from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians for all the play they (of all bands) get on that channel. 26 Left of Center, 22 1st Wave as noted above, and 16 The Vault (given a weakness for '70s style prog rock) round out my top five presets. (Seconding CBC 3 as well as Iceberg, in the Canada ghetto up in the 80s and 90s somewhere, too.) Demographic: moderately eclectic 30something male, a musician myself. If that helps.

Talk: well, there's Howard 100 - for as puerile as the show gets much of the time, he might be the world's best interviewer, and the show can be really engrossing at times. Sports options are many and excellent if you're into that (I am) and the CBC and BBC are tough to beat for world news and perspective. The comedy channels are intermittently great (though don't listen to 104 in mixed company!)

I'm an NPR guy but I find the Sirius NPR (and general news/talk) offerings to be something of a disappointment, other than Talk of the Nation, Day to Day and the occasional news special. The lack of Morning Edition and All Things Considered really hurts, because instead of news & analysis, we get a lot of call-in shows, usually on narrow topics, with "dry" guests (to my tastes, at least.)

The political talk channels (segregated into Left, Indie and "Patriot" - bleargh) are embarrassingly amateurish and the other American news/talk options are pretty pedestrian (CNN, "Headline News" and Fox News simulcasts, the "ABC Talk" channel featuring S. Hannity, etc.) Decent coverage in this election season is tough to come by (and missed), though I suppose it's not entirely Sirius's fault that there's a dearth of decent content to air.

Those thoughts aside - Sirius is the thing that makes my 130 mile round trip commute tolerable. I literally use the AM/FM radio in my car less than 1% of the time, and I have NYC radio at my disposal.

Echoing the sentiments that 30 seconds seems very long for a signal lock. Do you park in the "shadow" of a tall building, by chance? When I park next to my 3-story building in a certain way, I lose signal. I have a Sportster 5 and normally otherwise get a full 3-bar signal within 5 seconds of starting the car, often instantly. My antenna is on the roof of my car, about 6 inches from the top of the hatchback.
posted by gazole at 5:20 PM on September 12, 2008

Docpops, that antenna placement sounds like it ought to be OK.

Favorite channels:
  • #8 (Big 80's)
  • #23 (Hair Nation, a heavy metal station)
  • #71 and #72 (contemporary and serious jazz)
  • #73 (Spa 73, soothing music played on harps and zithers and such, good for the hilarious tracknames if your receiver can display them)
  • #74, Blues - selection could be better, the XM blues channel plays better artists
  • #100 and 101, Howard
  • #124, NFL news
  • #129, CNBC (for Fast Money and Cramer, mostly)
  • #198 Playboy - hilarious, though probably NSFW.

posted by ikkyu2 at 7:29 PM on September 12, 2008

Response by poster: Gazole/ikkyu - Thanks. I'm going to sit in the car tomorrow and start programming. The thing is I've seen all these on the display but never would have guessed the content behind the titles. The signal delay is baffling to me - I moved the antenna to the center and a bit higher, behind the sunroof. There's still a delay of probably twenty seconds at least. Not a huge deal, other than knowing it's shorter for a lot of other people. I'll call Sirius and see what they say.

And it's heartening to see the honesty on Howard. It's weird - I feel like I was raised on him and now that I can listen again I forgot how good he is just riffing on things.
posted by docpops at 8:43 PM on September 12, 2008

You know, I've had Sirius installed on 2 cars, and each time the first antenna was faulty. 50% isn't great - you might have a bad antenna?
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:04 AM on September 13, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, ikkyu2, I was online and the web is full of "acquiring signal" threads. I'm going back to Car Toys to get it checked over and get a new antenna at the least. Good to know that's been your experience as well.
posted by docpops at 9:10 PM on September 13, 2008

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