CBC and Sirius do satellite radio: the easy and the queasy

Like everyone else, I love satellite radio.

Of course, I haven’t heard it yet, but on paper these are the greatest radio stations in history.

My American friends and colleagues have been going on and on about them for years now, I’ve been following the plannings and hearings and discussions here in Canada, waiting and waiting.

And now it’s finally here.

The Easy

  • A lot of music
  • A lot of good music
    I’ve seen what some of these people are programming. I haven’t been this excited since Napster.
  • No ads
  • The CRTC 2005-246 to 248 decisions
    The CRTC is frustrating and enigmatic, but these decisions were good examples of Canadian-style compromise. I realize I am the only one who thinks this.

The Queasy

  • Sirius
    We are married to Sirius in this deal. If they go down the toilet, we go with them. At this point, they look like a winner. But so does XM. Yet, someone has to lose. At least some of the time.
  • Proprietary technologies
    To listen to the CBC’s satellite channels, you need to buy a Sirius radio receiver, which does little more than listen to Sirius radio. If Sirius tanks, or the CBC sucks, it is useless. Remember Klipfarm? Didn’t think so.
  • Transmission over a privately-owned network
    There is no way we could afford a satellite-based radio network. Owning a network is an expensive, time-consuming headache, and people who think they are clever will call you a fascist for it. But it’s nice to have and is a good thing for the taxpayer to own.
  • Subscription fees
    Every radiohead I know gladly pays these satellite radio fees with a smile. But a 2-tier radio system is elitist, no matter how you slice it.
  • No Howard Stern
    The show is crap. And worst of all, boring. But taking it out of the picture exposes some of the serious cracks in this deal. Why is the Sirius president backing down on his hottest property? Why didn’t the CBC or the CRTC say anything on the matter?

    He claims the CRTC would make Sirius “take it down,” yet the CRTC approved the proposal knowing Stern was on the bill. So what “standards” is he referring to? The CBC’s mandate? This being a private network, shouldn’t pay radio work like pay TV and be anything goes? Will these “standards” affect Sirius’ 100 other channels?

    Something stinks about this, and i don’t think we are getting the full story. As it stands, either the president of Sirius is an idiot and living in fear of the CRTC, or this public/private marriage is going to be second-guessing itself and heavily censored.


  1. Johnathan
    Posted January 1, 2006 at 12:55 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    For what it’s worth, I (being American, but frustrated at the lack of international content) thought this was a great opportunity for Canada to get its voices heard in a wider market.

    It’s not just a ghetto of Canadian channels, either. XM’s license with the CRTC states they will ensure a minimum of 7% of all new songs added to all music channels are “Canadian content”. By the end of XM’s license term, 10 percent of everything on XM will be Canadian. ( http://www.cdnsatrad.com/news11052004.php )
    So, really, the majority of channels will have some Canadian content, probably more than most US-based terrestrial music stations. (Presumably Sirius has a similar mandate to add Canadian music to all music channels.)

    I also think the CBC can stand to make some decent money from this venture, as they own 40 percent of Sirius Canada. Sirius USA only owns 20 percent. (The remaining 40% belongs to Standard Radio.)

    I wouldn’t be shocked if Sirius Canada eventually does add Howard Stern, even if as part of a premium package. XM Canada carries the High Voltage “shock jock” channel with Opie & Anthony and Ron & Fez.

    Also, I think that CBC/Radio-Canada is finally able to present a full service to all of Canada this way. CBC Radio 1 & 3, Premiére Plus, Bandéapart, Infoplus, and RCIplus are now available with complete nationwide coverage.
    Also, note at http://www.cbc.ca/sirius/ that CBCR1 on Sirius has been reformatted to avoid duplicating terrestrial R1 stations. (It also, cleverly enough, avoids duplicating the CBCR1 programs already carried on Sirius USA by Public Radio International. (pri.org))

    XM really does need to improve its Canadian offerings a little if it wants to compete in that area. However I think they do have a leg up with their NHL coverage, including a Canadian-produced 24/7 hockey network “Home Ice”.

    I suspect, for starters, that XM 52 “(un)Signed” will change its name in the new year, as the name is not mentioned at all when I’ve listened. They ID as “XM 52. New. Emerging. Now.”

    I am also looking forward to what I hope will be a 9th channel of Canadian content from XM, the multicultural music station to be named “Mosaic”. If they do indeed add this instead of changing an existing Canadian station, they’d be able to add 9 more channels from the US service, filling out the music lineup and possibly including a few more news stations. More info on XM Mosaic here:

    XM also needs to beef up their news offerings. “Canada 360” and “Quois De Neuf” are not exactly engaging or interesting. Surely they can find a partner who could at least help them add some produced feature stories to spice up their “rip and read” style of news. Help should be forthcoming from Corus in this department:

  2. Anonymous
    Posted December 30, 2005 at 5:33 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I just want Justin to know how sweet satelite radio can be when you’re far from Canada. I may not be the average listener, but Sirius has saved me from painful internet streaming of CBC. I now get Radio one in California AND (I suspect I am thanking the CRTC for this) non stop Canadian music. We get NHL hockey. We even get rad-can and Quebec music if we want to pretend we’re in Montreal. The device moves from car to home stereo in a flash. Sirius doesn’t go near local radio, which semi-preserves first-tier broadcasting.
    This is a million times better than chasing RCI round the short-wave dial which, ahem, required a separate receiver. (I had to do this not in Bahrain but in order to hear CBC at my Lake Huron cottage. The CBC’s coverage of rural areas is shabby. Satellite radio may be the only way for many Canadians to hear their national broadcaster.)
    I don’t even know, fellow anonymous, what channel Stern is on. I also don’t know how XM might have been superior. As usual, a new technology looks one way to people using it and another to those who don’t.
    If all I have to pay is $80 for the receiver and $15 monthly, I don’t care if it’s all space junk in a few years. It’s already worth it.
    When sitting in Toronto never forget about all those Canadians in rural areas and abroad, for whom the CBC exists also.
    Sirius is just one more way to serve.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted December 10, 2005 at 11:25 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I looked very hard to see if Graham Spry was looking ill at having his picture stand at the head of your comments about satellite radio. It is only very short of disgusting that a blog with his supposed authority and presence gracing it would miss the central fact of satellite radio. Satellite radio is about dumping American content on Canadian audiences –gobs of it, reams of it, endless hours of it. It is about the very thing that Graham Spry spent his entire life opposing.

    That the CBC would not only support this culturally suicidal venture, but buy into it, become one of its chief apologists and shills, would be ludicrous if it were not so tragic. Is a few lousy bucks so important to the organization that it would sacrifice the essential principle by which it was created, that the Aird Commission outlined in the 20s — that “Canadians want Canadian radio” ?

    It seems that they are.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted December 9, 2005 at 10:28 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Please do keep writing. As one of those CBC types who was engaged duing the lockout I still feel the need for a more in-depth conversation about everything we’re doing. Things are changing. I’m in the regions where we’re not as privy to the inner-workings as are others. Still I notice it and I want to know where where headed. Questions we’ve all been asked to answer lately about the newws study or TV shadowing make it clear something is afoot, but what I’m not sure. I still need an outlet, so keep it up.

  5. Ouimet
    Posted December 7, 2005 at 8:13 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    9:26 Anonymous – Not as many people are reading as there were during the lockout. But back then some felt that they HAD to read, in case I had some hot gossip concerning their jobs.

    So the audience is smalller, but it seems to be CBC’ers and audience members who are interested in the CBC, which suits me fine.

    I’m still struggling with what kinds of things I will write about, but as long as there is some discussion here, and people are reading it, I will keep going.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted December 3, 2005 at 7:26 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    This satellite radio deal concerns me greatly and I’m not talking about the technology.

    This is not about censorship and I don’t want to spark any freedom of speech lectures here but the issue to me still remains should CBC Radio, Canada’s public broadcaster, really be hitching it’s cart to the “Howard Stern” network.

    When people think of Sirius they think of Howard Stern so CBC by association is now linked to Howard Stern, whether he’s heard in Canada or not. I can’t believe the media has not picked up on this. Let’s just say CBC had this same link to a company who’s hottest property was Rush Limbaugh. I think this would be all over the Globe and Mail.

    Remember the last escapade that got Stern in trouble with the FCC?
    Amazing Grace how sweet the sound indeed.

    Is this really something CBC should be a part of? Satellite Radio yes but maybe CBC should seriously consider its link with Sirius. Too late now I know but I just wanted to make the point.

    Ouimet you’ve turned this blog into a forum where we can discuss the CBC issues while remaining anonymous if we choose. This is important because I still feel that the people in charge of CBC do not really encourage debate or questions in any way and still punish those who disagree with the party line. So thank you. This is needed. I hope people are still reading.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted December 2, 2005 at 11:38 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I agree with the “easy” part. I’m excited about this and wish to rush out to be an ‘early adopter’ (it’s not new, though!). My choice would be XM, due to my small experience with the American version. Sorry that CBC went with Sirius.

    I tried out ExpressVu TV through the phoneline (VDSL), which provided Galaxie radio stations as well as piles of TV stations. Galaxie was the best part of the service, imho. I discontinued it due to the price for all the poor quality TV programming. I now use rabbit ears to pick up TVO, PBS and CBC.

    Galaxie introduced me to specialized radio channels without commercials. It is great. You don’t need P2P, MP3, iTunes and all that when you find a station that plays material you like, introduces you to new material of that type, all without commercials. Commercial radio is debased. I can’t bear it. I’d pay $12-15 a month for quality radio. It’s cheaper than ExpressVu. Some of the specials on XM are absolutely terrific.

    However, I hate that old VHS vs Beta thing happening all over again. Service specific receivers? umb-day! I guess it’s not that different from having one box to get Rogers cable and its offerings, versus ExpressVu’s box and its channels.

    There again, I was an early adopter of mp3 players and now have a collection of expensive, obsolete toys. I can add the service-specific satellite receiver to the heap when it’s no use anymore. I won’t let it stop me from jumping in with both feet. I can put the money toward it by not subscribing to cable or satellite TV. :-)

  8. Justin Beach
    Posted November 29, 2005 at 6:44 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m guessing that this is in response to my posting earlier? Or it could just be something on everyone’s mind today. In either case: If, in 2008-2009 there are thousands of radio stations and hundreds of television stations available from around the world in a multitude of languages, for free, along with millions of hours of recorded programming and music all on a device that goes with you anywhere and will also let you make phone calls, instant message, email, surf the internet, do word processing and other tasks and is highly customizable: How are you going to convince people to pay an extra $15 a month, for a hundred channels of audio, on a device that stays in your car and doesn’t do anything else?

    I agree about 2-tier radio, but by the time anyone got around to legislating a solution to that it would be a mute point. Sat. radio is , in my opinion at least, a stopgap at best – better, cheaper technology is on it’s way.

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