November 17, 2012

Free Satellite Radio

My 2012 VW Golf TDI came with satellite-ready radio, complete with a free 3-month subscription to SiriusXM. I didn't ask for it, I don't need it; but there it was. I tried it out a bit - it was OK. We weren't all that interested in most of the programming. Since the receiver needs line-of-sight access to the satellite, my radio lost signal even in wide-open parking garages where broadcast FM radio had no trouble. We let the subscription expire.

Naturally, SiriusXM started to send promotional mail, offering deals that became increasingly better as time went on. I started collecting the offers just to see how far they would go.

I didn't think they'd go this far, but earlier this week the price went to zero.

This is the offer: if you've ever had SiriusXM in your car, even if you don't have a live subscription now, you can turn it on again and listen for free, between 14 and 27 November 2012, cleverly positioned around the Thanksgiving weekend, when so many of us will be on the road far away from our own familiar radio stations.

I tried pushing the "SAT" button. My radio poured forth a recording of a 1974 Grateful Dead concert: I guess that was the channel I had listened to last before the satellite part of the radio went dead. That is, without the "grateful".

Just for amusement, here is a list of SiriusXM offers since we bought the car, late in March 2012:

Date Offer
27 March $14.49 per month
28 June $14.49 per month, one month free
9 July 50% off one year subscription
30 July 12 months for $86
20 August 12 months for $86
23 September 6 months for $25
1 November 6 months for $25
12 November 2 weeks FREE

It's hard to see how much of a deal you're getting this way, so I've charted the weekly subscription fee under these different offers, assuming you keep the offer for a full year (blue symbols). Also the weekly subscription fee for the first two weeks assuming you let the subscription expire at the end of the offer period (red symbols). The full price of the basic subscription is $3.34 per week.

It looks kinda cool: the offers get better and better on the short term (red symbols), until it's now finally completely FREE, no re-activation charge, no taxes where applicable, no strings attached, it's just ON - for two weeks.

If you decide to keep on listening for a year, even after the offers expire, it gets cheaper at first, then more expensive (blue symbols).

Just so we're clear : if you kept the subscription for the next twelve years or so, the average car lifetime, and if you average the subscription fee over that time, you'd be paying close to the full weekly fee, $3.34, for all the offers we've been talking about (yellow symbols). Not counting any price increases.

Which goes to show, in the long run, the bone they throw you to encourage you to stay on with them is puny. In the current two-weeks-free offer, they give you free service worth $6.68, and hope to get your business at $173.88 plus tax every year for twelve years. Great marketing. Sort of insulting to the user, if you ask me.

Still, here we are with two weeks of free satellite radio. What a long, strange trip it's been.




  1. Having bought a 2012 Veloster this past June, I'm living out the same sort of experience with SiriusXM, and like CelloMom, I let the initial 3 month free period lapse, and I'm now listening to it again after listening to FM and the iPod for about two months in between.

    Well, there's no question that the audio is muddier sounding than the iPod. Whether it's better or worse than FM depends on how good an FM signal you're getting. I'm certain that this is due to a higher level of digital compression being used to compensate for the poorer satellite link margin. Unlike a home satellite system where satellite location relative to the receiver is fixed so the antenna is directive and has gain, the antenna on your car has to be omnidirectional, so the signal to noise ratio is much worse right at the receiver front end. This is a fundamental limitation that gets even worse as you try to squeeze more channels into the same spectrum. Not surprisingly, given these technical limitations, the commercial nature of the service, and the need for as broad an appeal as possible, it's not a system for audiophiles.

    Also, I find the complete cutout of audio during a signal fade much more jarring than the static and breakup you hear on FM. So I'll be sticking to the free service plan...


    1. I guess since the iPod is local, it will give you the best fidelity. Not only that, you get your own choice of music.

      I find my FM signal also occasionally cuts out like the satellite signal, probably because it's an HD radio; I'm surprised that it takes a few seconds for its digital processor to recover from whatever event caused it to blank out. It goes to show what cool engineering analog FM is! If I'd known I would have "downgraded" my radio to that.

      Enjoy your new Veloster!


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