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Sirius-XM merger won't save satellite radio

Hard-core sports fans will pay $12.95 per month for radio. Hard-core music fans won't.

The FCC's approval Friday of the merger between satellite radio providers Sirius and XM won't solve the fundamental problems with satellite radio.

As I've written before, I was a Sirius subscriber for one year, before canceling my subscription in early 2007. It sounded bad--much worse than my current kludge of plugging my iPod Shuffle into an aux-input that connects to an unused frequency on my FM radio (don't's an '06 Subaru thing). It was a physical pain to set up. Most of all, it just wasn't worth paying $12.95 a month to hear what was essentially terrestrial radio without the advertisements. The DJs talked too much, their voices were annoying, and they stuck mostly with fairly safe major-label music fit into tightly conscribed genres. That's not how I listen to music.

As the FCC fuddled around trying to figure out whether to approve the merger, numerous alternatives for music fans have grown stronger. Terrestrial radio's still a dying joke, but the rise of mobile devices with anywhere connectivity is a real threat--I'm thinking about the imperfect but interesting Slacker, as well as the iPhone+Pandora combination that's going to take over the world. Instead of having a DJ broadcasting his selections to the world, these services narrowcast a specialized station based on your personal taste. There's still something nice about a great DJ, one who scours new releases looking for that nugget the fans will love. But even if Sirius/XM has that DJ on staff, is it worth $12.95 a month? Most music fans will say no.

There's one audience that could find the new landscape of satellite radio indispensable: hard-core sports fans. One drawback of XM and Sirius is that sports coverage was split between them, although I'm an NFL fan, so Sirius worked for me. The merger eliminates the split, meaning that fans will be able to hear just about every game they could possibly want.