Satellite Radio Hits Canada

by James Menzies

EDMONTON, Alta. – Satellite radio, a service that is gaining popularity with American truckers, may not yet be formally available in Canada, but there is a “gray” market for it emerging.

While a Canadian provider has yet to make the service available north of the 49th, it is possible to access the stations, according to Harold Seibert, owner of Satellite Agents of Canada in Edmonton, Alta.

Seibert’s company helps customers set up a U.S. address, enabling them to subscribe to the two existing satellite radio providers in the U.S., namely XM and Sirius.

This allows Canadian truckers to access dozens of commercial-free stations featuring digital sound from virtually anywhere, says Seibert.

Once signed up, they can pay a monthly subscription fee to either Sirius or XM, allowing them to receive more than 100 channels featuring virtually every kind of music and entertainment imaginable.

“They’re the best thing to happen to driving a truck since rubber tires as far as I’m concerned,” Seibert says.

His store sells the satellite radio systems, which generally cost US$200 or more, and helps co-ordinate the subscription process.

While the Canadian Television and Radio Commission (CTRC) has yet to formally give the service the green light in Canada, the signals can be accessed by all subscribers provided they have a U.S. mailing address, he explained, emphasizing it’s not illegal to do so.

“If you have an address in the U.S., you can have programming,” Seibert says, noting Mailboxes Etc. and other stores can provide American mailing addresses as well.

Seibert is quick to point out that American subscribers can access satellite radio channels anywhere from Florida to Alaska.

“We happen to be the unfortunate territory in between,” he says.

Since truckers often find themselves in remote parts of the country with little or no radio stations to choose from, they’re the ideal target market for satellite radio, Seibert says.

“The place to sell these things would be a roadside booth situated 60 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, because for the next 300 miles there’s no radio at all,” he says.

The one downfall of satellite radio is that there are occasional interruptions when a trucker is in a major city surrounded by large buildings, which block the signal.

With the right equipment, however, accessing the signals is easy, Seibert said.

“Satellite radio, generally speaking, is an accessory for the existing sound system,” he explains.

The radios themselves are compact units that are installed in much the same way as an aftermarket CD player. Company drivers or O/Os with multiple trucks can purchase car kits, which allow them to easily transfer the radio from vehicle to vehicle.

“People who are driving other people’s vehicles can buy a car kit for $69, put it in their truck and when they’re not driving the truck they can take the radio with them,” Seibert says.

It’s a popular option, with 1.9 car kits being sold in the U.S. for every satellite radio system.

The systems also come with a magnetic antenna, which attaches to the roof of the vehicle, and a remote control that allows the driver to control the radio from the comfort of the sleeper.

The systems can also be used inside a passenger vehicle or house.

While there are no Canadian service providers in the satellite radio business as of yet, Seibert predicted there will be eventually.

“They will allow it in Canada but whenever there’s a technological breakthrough like this, there’s a lag time,” he says.

“Whenever they introduce the technology in the U.S., it takes a period of time before the Canadian regulatory authorities and the businesspeople get their act together.”

Another reason for the lack of Canadian providers is that the service has yet to gain widespread acceptance in the U.S., making it difficult for both XM and Sirius to turn a profit, Seibert says.

“It has not been a huge, booming success story like satellite TV was. So the speed at which a Canadian provider shows up is not going to be as swift.”

Be that as it may, there’s no reason why Canadian truckers can’t tap into the increasingly popular world of satellite radio by exploiting a loophole in the system in the meantime, Seibert says.

For more information, contact Seibert at 780-944-1791.

He’s also interested in talking to truck stop CB shop owners about providing installations to further increase the number of satellite radio users in Canada.

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