I drive a lot. Every work day (and some weekends), I hop in my fuel-efficient Honda Civic and commute to the Century City offices of AudioRevolution.com from Long Beach on the 405 freeway which, during rush hour, often looks more like a parking lot than a freeway. With a daily round-trip commute of 60 miles a day, there is certainly no better candidate for satellite radio than yours truly.
When AudioRevolution.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano had XM Satellite Radio installed in his SUV, I was very excited to have the chance to audition it on a daily basis with him as we drove to lunch at one of the greasy spoons in West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. We determined that the technology was pretty slick and, although not quite as “CD quality” as the commercials would have you believe, it sounded pretty good. We also quickly learned that trying to find songs we liked was harder than finding something good to listen to on terrestrial radio. XM brags about having more variety than FM radio. It certainly has that, but when it comes down to it, ratings have proven that people want music that is familiar to them. Every time an oldies station narrows its playlist to the top 350 songs, their ratings go up. The running joke Jerry and I had with XM was that it was hard to find a channel that had two good songs consecutively and virtually impossible to ever get three keepers in a row. Needless to say, I wasn’t blown away by the programming on XM, so I decided I wouldn’t be adding it to my car.
When it comes to music, my tastes are all over the place, with favorites ranging from Mr. Bungle to Rush to the Carpenters to Primus to the Doors and far beyond. I do appreciate “variety,” but somehow XM’s programming rarely seemed to have any songs I care about. A few months, ago a friend of mine, a former XM Satellite subscriber himself, decided to ditch his XM and install Sirius in his car. One scroll through the Sirius dial, hearing hit song after hit song, made me take notice. The first channel that really spoke to me was Channel 4, “Moving EZ,” which is full of late ‘70s and early ‘80s cheesy soft rock. If you are a regular AudioRevolution.com reader, you will recall Del Colliano’s story about the recent phenomenon of “soft rock parties,” where Gen X’ers who grew up overhearing their parents Air Supply and Chicago records get together over a bottle of wine and admit that they have always secretly loved songs like “Brandy” by Looking Glass or “True” by Spandau Ballet. I immediately thought, “This station rules.” I was compelled to investigate the Sirius technology and service further.
Moving up through the dial on my friend’s Sirius receiver, I didn’t like every single song I heard. However, the percentage of listenable vs. unlistenable music was much better on Sirius than XM, so I decided to install Sirius in my own car, plunk down $12.95 a month for the programming (it is about $10 for XM’s service, plus add-ons) and explore whether Sirius would make my hellish commute a little more bearable.
My car has the stock Honda AM/FM radio/CD player and I added the Honda cassette tape player when I purchased the car six months (and 16,000 miles) ago, so I didn’t want to tear out the radio. I also wasn’t completely sure I wanted to make a full-time commitment to Sirius yet, so I opted for an external Kenwood unit, rather than an in-dash head unit that would replace my Honda factory radio and would require a professional installation.
Looking more like a radar detector than a satellite tuner, the Kenwood KTC-H2A1 isn’t the sexiest piece of AV gear in the world and sports a dorky “Here2Anywhere” blue logo on the top of it. This, of course, isn’t noticeable when it’s sitting in the wall-mount display case at The Good Guys, so I was a little disappointed with the logo on the top of the unit when I cracked open the box, but I quickly got over it. It was time to install the unit and get to listening.
Carefully pulling up the edges of the carpeting along my passenger-side front and rear floorboards, I ran the Sirius antenna wire from the panel pack behind my rear windows and down the side of the rear passenger side seat. I ran the wire along the floorboard, then under my floor mat, then under the plastic panel just to the left of my glove box. Measuring the amount of wire I’d need to make it to the KTC-H2A1 that would be mounted on the center of my dashboard, I buried the excess antennae wire inside the dashboard and pulled just enough wire through the gap in one of the plastic panels directly under my radio. This still leaves a small piece of wire that crosses over my cassette deck, radio and air conditioning controls. Eventually, I will likely perform a better installation that runs the antennae wire along the top of the dashboard and then goes alongside it. To keep the antenna from sliding, it sticks to the surface of my rear dash, thanks to two pieces of Velcro and using the hook side to attach it. Ultimately, I will mount it on the outside of my car on the rear hood, but for the time being, the antenna picks up the service very well, only dropping out when I go under wide freeway underpasses or into parking garages that have low ceilings.
To use this unit in your car, the KPA-H2C car docking kit is required. It includes the base stand, cradle, the cassette adapter, cigarette lighter power adapter and magnetic antenna-mounting hardware, as well as a convenient carry bag. Audio/video cables are also provided, should you want to get the optional FM Modulator to hardwire the signal into your radio so it comes through a pre-defined radio channel. I have heard of people doing this with mixed success, so for my evaluation period, I opted to go the easy route and use the cassette adapter. I finished up by mounting the base unit and cradle on my dashboard with double-sided tape, being careful to not get it too close to the passenger side airbag. The last thing you want is a Sirius satellite receiver smacking you or your passenger in the face if you accidentally have a head-on collision.