Desperate But Not Sirius – The Tutorial

I just got myself a Sirius radio and wow, is it exciting! Incredible programming unfettered by the present political climate. And since terrestrial radio is basically dead, I figured it was time I wrote a little “how to” on getting and setting up your own Sirius radio because, trust me, you WILL be getting it. You’ll thank me later.

First, let’s understand the basic concepts. What we all know: Terrestrial radio stations send out signals that travel through the air. Using a AM/FM receiver one can pick up those signal. What you need to know about The Revolution: the Sirius company shot up about three satellites which travel around North and South America in a “figure eight” pattern. Check out the satellite animation

A Sirius radio gets it’s signal from these satellites. Those orbiting satellites send out over a hundred channels through that signal. And you can pick it up Anywhere in the United States. No more missing your favorite show while traveling! See how simple? Well, ok, it’s slightly more involved than that, so let’s continue.

First, you have to decide where you will be listening. While traveling or at home? Or both? Look over the Sirius site and the array of radios available and you can see you have lots to choose from. The boomboxes are too big for my taste, but I know people who have them, If you don’t already have a stereo at home it’s perfect. And portable – you can use batteries or plug it in. I know people who take theirs to work. If you have a car get a Starmate or Sportster. All you have to do is place the supplied omnidirectional antenna in your car so it has an unobstructed view of the satellite (“Look to the Skies!”). They suggest just putting it on the roof (it’s got quite a strong magnet, so it’s not falling off), but my brother just has it running down inside the car and “peeking” out from the rear trunk. All Sirius antenna look like tiny bricks so there’s no danger of it getting in anyone’s way. Plus, you’ve got plenty of cable to find the “sweet spot” in your car.

The Starmate or Sportser radios are “snapped” into a cradle which can be attached to your car via several methods. The simplest is the suction cup mount, but there’s also Velcro for the mounting plate. Or you can get a professional to install the dash mount kit. There are some new cars that come with Sirius as an option.

If you are installing all this yourself I’d suggest not making anything permanent until you have been listening to the radio for several days and are sure everything is working properly. Anyway, back to the installation: Plug the supplied adapter into the car’s cigarette lighter (most new cars seem to have several). Turn on the Power. Let the radio wake up and then leave it on. Ok, there are only two steps left and you are good to go!

You have to Activate your radio now. You can do this by either calling Sirius on your phone or doing it online. It’s cheaper online (like 10 bucks).

Before you rush out of your car into your house to get online, first copy down the SID number that’s on the back of the Sirius radio. Each radio has a different number and it’s VERY important to store that info. Ok, Now you can run in the house. Once online you’ll need the usual info: credit card, address, yada yada AND the SID. You also have to decide if you want to pay monthly, yearly, or every two years. Naturally, a longer subscription means paying less per month.

Ok, once the radio has been activated you can NOW run back out to your car…… Hopefully you left the radio turned on while you were ordering your service – Sirius has to “talk” to it while you Activate it. Once your Sirius radio has updated itself, now it needs to communicate with your car radio to use it’s speakers so you can actually HEAR all this great music and talk. Otherwise all you’ll have is a pretty blue-lite toy. hmm.

Now, here’s one of the cool things Sirius radios can do. They can broadcast an FM signal. And, yes, it’s legal! By default the radio transmits at 88.1 MHz so turn on your car radio and tune to channel 88.1. and you should be hearing something. The idea is to find an empty or unused frequency in the FM range in your area. Different places across the country will have various free frequencies. Use this site to find the empty FM channels in your neighborhood.

In my own case 88.1 worked but I found another frequency that sent out a stronger FM signal to my stereo.
Being able to switch frequencies is great if you are traveling. The Sirius radio can remember up to five frequencies so you can cycle through to the best one for where ever you are. All you have to do is tune your terrestrial radio to receive at the number the Sirius radio is broadcasting.

Now, I don’t have a car so why did I get a Starmate? Because I can also use this in a house! Pay attention folks because this means you can use this radio in you car – park the car – and THEN bring the radio into your home. I got a home kit (extra) which comes with an AC Power Adapter, an directional antenna, a stand to clip in the radio and audio cables for directly connecting to one’s stereo. Now, this antenna DOES need to be properly positioned. Remember that animation of the traveling satellites? Look over this map of antenna positioning. Also, check the Satellite Service Coverage Map and Orbit Information to see where each satellite is right now. Very informative site. By the way, that picture is my antenna hovering out of my bathroom window. (inspired by that Beatles song)

All you have to do is

  • a) know what part of the country you live in
  • b) point the provided antenna toward the center of the country
  • c) and you should get a good signal. Example: If you are on the east coast point your antenna west. Yes, depending on various conditions and which windows you have available you might have to spend a few moments tweeking, but I have had my radio for a short time and it didn’t take me long to get it right. In some areas of the country terrestrial repeaters also help get you a signal. Some people live in apts or just don’t have a window facing the right position and they will need a roof antenna.
I’ve heard rave reviews for the Terk SIR6 Antenna and possibly an an extension cable like the Sirius Satellite Radio 50 Ft. Antenna Extension

There’s two ways Sirius radios communicate with terrestrial radios. As I already pointed out, one is sending FM signals on an empty frequency. The other method is to directly plug from the Sirius Audio Out to your stereos AUX IN using the RCA plugs supplied with the home kit. At the moment my Sirius radio is too far away from my stereo but eventually I’ll get an extention cable for the antenna. My brother has his Sirius plugged into his stereo and naturally that’s where you get the best sound. But even when I plug my Sirius radio into my stereo I can still have it broadcasting on the empty channel so I can hear programming from other radios anywhere in the house. In fact I’ll be able to hear my radio outside the house in the garden. I just now strapped on my walkman and took a little trip around the house. I can actually walk about two houses in either direction and still get a signal although the farther away I get the more fuzzy the signal can become. That’s not bad at all!

While I don’t have any difficulty getting a signal, I know some do. And in some areas you may have to overcome FM interference from Terrestrial Radio stations.

Use a Wired FM Modulation Relay or C. Crane FM transmitter or this one to prevent those stations from drowning out your Sirius radios transmitter’s signal.

If you like to Ride you can also get equipment for Motorcycles.

At the moment there’s no such animal as a Sirius “Walkman” in the sense that there’s a dedicated portable radio. The S50 is certainly small, but you can’t walk around AND receive a Sirius signal. It works by recording several hours of programming and THEN you walk around using it like any other mp3 player.
There are, however, several smart phones which can get certain Sirius channels.

Since there’s a huge amount of info with all those channels, regular people have made web sites which list the programming.

This one – Sirius Radio Listings – shows what’s playing at the moment you go to the site. (Click the bottom link on the left menu) Refreash the page to keep updated. dogstar radio lists all programming.

And, by the way, you can add more than one radio to your subscription. It just costs half as much as a normal sub. That makes it easy for various members of the same family (or even just friends) to get Sirius for a good price.

So, be Sirius and NOT Desperate!

Written by Cecilia