Listen Up!

Illustrations by Eric Yang Pretty much all you need to know about satellite radio can be summed up in one paragraph. There are two services, Sirius and XM. XM offers 101 channels, with 71 of them devoted to music, and the rest to news and talk. Sirius has 100 channels (or "streams," as it calls them), 60 of them music-only. Sirius's music channels are commercial-free while about half of XM's carry some ads. XM is $9.95 a month; Sirius is $12.95 a month. You'll find satellite radio in a growing number of new cars - Sirius is aligned primarily with Ford, while XM has GM in its camp - but you can also have it installed in your current car. Sony is a major supplier for XM and Kenwood for Sirius. Home gear is becoming available for both services.

But all of that is secondary because if you're going to pay for radio, it had better give you a pretty good reason not to pop a CD in the player or switch to AM and FM. Since the value of both services really rests with their programming, we arranged for three of our veteran music critics - Billy Altman, Brett Milano, and Richard C. Walls - to live with both Sirius and XM receivers for a month. The mandate wasn't necessarily for them to declare which channels were their runaway favorites, but to discover which offered the most intriguing and promising programming. Given that all three writers have eclectic tastes, we knew they would sample widely and wisely. Here, as they used to say on Dragnet, are the results of that trial.