This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Radio…

When I was a kid (My age is showing here!), AM radio was popular, FM was for listening to music, and those were the only choices you had.

How things have changed! Now, AM is mostly news, sports, and talk, and FM radio is taking over a lot of those duties, also, with many stations simulcasting in both. The really exciting news, though, is the many non-traditional alternatives to broadcast radio.

A few years ago, I was thoroughly peeved that the only jazz station in my area disappeared. Then, I had no alternatives, other than listening to my own disks. Now, I just turn on Pandora, and I get all the Jazz I want!

Satellite and Internet radio have many advantages over traditional broadcast radio, and some disadvantages, mainly that they may cost you some extra money unless you don’t mind commercials.

Satellite Radio is a subscription service, costing roughly 13 dollars per month for unlimited access. There were originally two satellite radio services in the US, Sirius and XM. These have since merged, although they still have two different subscription types. Sirius seems to be oriented more towards music, and XM is more for talk and sports enthusiasts. Both services offer over 100 stations, but you can’t customize them or add more.

In order to receive satellite radio, a special receiver is necessary. These are usually made for automotive use, although there are home use kits, and sometimes portable versions as well. Satellite radio is most popular with truck drivers and the like, because it’s the only service that can give seamless coverage, coast to coast. You can listen to the same station from Los Angeles to Miami, and never run into an area with no coverage. You can’t add or customize stations, though.

Internet radio is now much more popular than satellite for a number of reasons: Virtually any device with a fast internet connection can access it, the stations are customizable, some services let you choose individual songs, and there are several that are free (With commercials). The most popular, Pandora, has 200 million listeners, is available for any smartphone, and has a free version or (for about $4 per month), a no-advertizing version. Pandora is more like a radio station in that you don’t get to choose individual songs or play a particular song on demand. You can choose artists, genres, make your own station, and ban or favorite individual songs.

Other services, like Spotify, are less like a radio station and more like a personal DJ. They do have limited on-demand service in their free versions, or a full selection of on-demand music with their paid service.

The most important thing for mobile users to remember is that all internet radio uses a substantial amount of data. It’s not hard to blow through a data cap listening to these services.

There are many free and paid internet radio services. Here’s a comparison chart of them.

The pros and cons of satellite radio:


  • Available coast to coast, with no dead spots, even in West Texas.
  • Sometimes available with satellite TV subscriptions.
  • Unlimited listening with no overage fees.
  • Best for professional drivers.


  • No customizing of stations.
  • No on-demand selection.
  • Special receiver needed.
  • Needs a clear view of the sky.
  • Only one company (Sirius/XM) with few options.
  • No free option.
  • Limited portability.

Pros and cons of internet radio:


  • Many free options.
  • Vast music libraries.
  • Customizable stations. Don’t like a song? Ban it!
  • On-demand songs with some, like Spotify.
  • Works on almost any internet connected device – PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes like Roku, Blu-ray players. No need for special hardware.
  • Some services, such as iHeart and TuneIn, let you listen to thousands of local stations, and they’re free.
  • Google music even allows you to upload your personal music library and play it on the go, absolutely free.
  • Even the paid versions are generally cheaper than satellite.


  • If you don’t want ads, you’ll need a paid subscription, although most internet radio subscriptions are cheaper than satellite radio.
  • If you’re listening mobile, if you have no (or slow) cellular coverage, you’ve got no radio.
  • Mobile users will need to keep a close watch on their data usage to avoid overages. Be aware, also, that some services use data a lot faster than others. Pandora uses about 1/4 as much data per hour as Google.

Whatever kind of radio you like listening to, your options are way better than they used to be!

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