Put Me on the Air!

Jane Pratt has a satellite radio show. Can I get one, too?

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On Sept. 25, Oprah Winfrey got her own channel on XM Satellite Radio. Later this fall, former Jane Editor Jane Pratt will launch a weekly three-hour talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio. There are already shows on Sirius hosted by Deepak Chopra, publishing honcho Judith Regan, Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore, and Richard Simmons. On XM, Tyra Banks, New York Times business section writer Lisa Belkin, Jesse Jackson, and conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck are just a few of the personalities with airtime. Can I have my own satellite radio show, too?

Maybe. Both Sirius and XM accept unsolicited pitches for shows and channels, although the odds of actually getting on the air are slim if your idea comes in over the transom. If you’re not a celebrity, you’re more likely to succeed if you have broadcast experience, a strong pitch for a show, and a demo tape. XM accepts brief e-mail pitches at programming@xmradio.com, and Sirius suggests sending your show idea to the programming department by U.S. mail.

For celebrities and no-names alike, however, it’s much easier to get a satellite radio show than to land a spot on terrestrial radio. Although satellite radio stations can’t actually offer an infinite number of channels and programs (the FCC has placed bandwidth limits on each station, and both stations are close to their limits, though they won’t reveal exactly how close), they still offer many more channels than terrestrial radio, which allows them to air shows that are extremely specialized. Sirius has a show that’s exclusively about horror, and it recently devoted an entire channel to the music of country singer George Strait for five days. * XM has a show that plays only surf-rock songs covered by punk bands, a show about fantasy football, and another devoted to Native American music. And on satellite radio, there’s slightly less pressure to get good ratings, largely because it is a subscription-only service. As on cable television, this leaves more room for niche programming.

Once you have your satellite radio show, you might find that celebrity hosts get preferential treatment. Bam Margera, who has a show on Sirius, got the company to set up a home studio for him in West Chester, Pa. Bob Dylan, who has a show on XM, has a mobile broadcasting studio that allows him to broadcast from his tour bus, hotel room, or even onstage. And Oprah had XM build her a brand-new studio in Chicago. But mere mortals generally have to come in to one of the stations’ studios to record their shows and often have to work the soundboard and other equipment themselves.

Explainer thanks Anne-Taylor Griffith of XM Media Relations, Sirius Senior Vice-President of Music Programming Steve Blatter, and Nick Lowery, who hosts Headgames on the Sirius Sports Byline Channel.

* Correction, Oct. 6, 2006: This piece originally said that Sirius has an entire channel for the music of country singer George Strait. The station actually devoted one of its existing channels to Strait’s music for a five-day stretch. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.