Essay Writing Samples

Sample Communications Class Essay on Radio Wave Wars: Satellite or FM?

At Ultius, we know that most high school or college students are going to be expected to write a paper on communications in their academic career, so we’ve provided a sample of an essay on Satellite and FM radio below.

The Invention of Radio

Hans Christian Oersted made the discovery of electromagnetic fields, induced by electrical current, in 1820 (“The Development of Radio”). Throughout the nineteenth century scientists continued to experiment with these electromagnetic fields, however, it was an Italian inventor and entrepreneur who introduced the first broadcast utilizing electromagnetic waves. After years of testing at his father’s country home, Guglielmo Marconi obtained the first patent ever issued for wireless telegraphy technology in 1896 (Nobel Lectures). Marconi went on to establish dozens of other patents and is credited with introducing multiple technologies, including short-wave radio signals, syntonic telegraphy, and the microwave radio beacon, now known in the modern day as the radar systems (Nobel Lectures).

While Marconi was concentrating on long-distance signaling, code transmission, and military technology in Europe, inventors in America were discovering the ability to transmit the human voice through electromagnetic waves. In 1907, Lee De Forest unveiled his Audion signal detector, a piece of equipment that could sense and amplify radio frequencies (“The Development of Radio”). This technology encouraged the testing of electromagnet wave performance and manipulation, identifying both Amplitude Modulation (AM) and Frequency Modulation (FM) transmission potential (“A Science Odyssey: Radio Transmission: FM Vs AM”). FM radio became the preferred of the two sources simply because of its resistance to static, making for a clearer transmission of voice audio and the ideal format for music.

FM Radio

The discovery of the FM radio signal and its potential for revolutionizing the broadcast and entertainment industry was shelved by David Sarnoff of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) for nearly ten years due to the push to develop television technology instead (“The Development of Radio”). Sarnoff, who was no stranger to radio, had worked his way up the ladder at Marconi’s, first as an office boy at the age of 15 and later as a telegraph operator. Sarnoff remained in that post for several years until his big break came, he was the operator that received the fated message on April 14, 1912 “S.S. Titanic ran into iceberg, sinking fast” (Carsey and Werner 6).

Due to his technical prowess in a crisis situation, Sarnoff worked his way up the ladder, even proposing the idea of a radio box that played music. His idea was dismissed until another lucky break. In 1919, Marconi’s American operations were purchased by General Electric and RCA was formed as the holding company for the telegraphy organization. It was less than three years before Sarnoff had shepherded the radio music box into the homes of millions of Americans with sales totals topping $83 million (Carsey and Werner). Sarnoff is credited with developing the concepts of programming music, sports, and news through hundreds of stations, strung together across the country, and with that he formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (Carsey and Werner). It was only then that his focus on shifting radio to a more lucrative medium, through FM transmission, became a reality.

The first official FM stations were introduced in the mid-1940’s, however the commercial success and popularity of FM radio did not begin until the mid-1950’s when stations began simulcasting content on both AM and FM signals. Edwin Armstrong is credited with the first consistent FM transmissions, however his efforts to mass produce FM receivers was thwarted by Sarnoff in the late 1930’s. It was not until after his death in 1954 that FM radio became a massive success in the United States, with car manufacturers introducing the first standard FM car radios in 1963 and the mandate that all FM programming be original content in 1964 (“Development and Popularization of FM Radio | The History of Radio Broadcasting;” “History of Communications – RADIO: The Quality that Made Radio Popular”).

During this time, FM radio began to change not only the scientific format of radio transmission but as well, the content provided over the airwaves. “As part of this programming revolution on FM, DJs began choosing songs from much broader playlists that included album cuts from artists whose music sometimes reflected a more pronounced social conscious” (Alper 506). This was significantly different from the AM format of top 40 songs and consistent advertising. However, as the popularity of the format grew the revenue increased as well, cementing radio as a viable business model. This would force the end of the radio rebellion as investors forced advertising and consistent formatting back into the stations with the shift from the musical expression of the Disc Jockeys (DJs) to the profit generating machines that are seen today in FM radio. Towards the end of the twentieth-century, FM radio became dominated by a handful of media giants.

The programming on FM radio soon became more mechanical than ever, with stations utilizing consumers research to plan music rotations and advertising. DJ’s retained less responsibility musically and more as format hosts, entertaining listeners between pre-chosen playlists. This formatting allowed for the duplication of content through syndication and network programing. Syndicated programming would be produced by a private company and sold to broadcasters as standalone content. Often, smaller stations could utilize syndicated content to both save money and still be able to provide high-quality programming, which is critical in maintaining ad revenue. Network programming is a standard for the few broadcasting giants that own the vast majority of the radio airwaves. Similar to syndicated content, the programming can be recorded in a single location, but played throughout numerous geographic markets. The difference being that the content is owned by the broadcasting company and is for use on their network alone. This significantly reduced the need for studio talent as one network show could be broadcast in an infinite amount of markets.

A new challenger to FM appears! Satellite radio

Launched in 2001, XM Radio was the first commercial satellite radio company to enter the market, winning one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2001 award (“Best Inventions of 2001 – TIME”). To facilitate the launch, two satellites were placed in geostationary orbit along the East and West coast of the United States, the satellites are appropriately named “Rock” and “Roll” (Williamson 36). The launch of XM Radio was closely followed by its major competitor, Sirius in 2002 (Alper). According to Alper, as of 2006 XM Radio had amassed nearly three million subscribers compared to Sirius at just under one million paying customers. Unlike FM radio programming which is free to listeners who have a receiving device, satellite radio services are offered by subscription only, however the purchase of the receiver, from a manufacturer like Samsung, or Sony is also required. When originally launched, the XM Radio receiver could be purchased for between $150-$300 and a monthly subscription was $12.95 (Barnett).

Satellite radio and a subscription model are introduced

Currently, subscription pricing ranges from $10.99-$19.99 per month depending on the type of programming that the consumer wants (“Our Most Popular Packages – Siriusxm Radio”). Additionally, the cost of the receiver has plummeted dramatically, with many vehicles coming equipped with satellite radio receivers and streaming options available through wireless devices. Subscriptions are the primary source of revenue for satellite radio companies and the majority of the available channels are commercial-free due to the limited need for ad revenue (Alper).

The programming present on satellite radio was generated internally, with no inclusion of syndicated programming. However, in an effort to keep with consumer trends, XM and Sirius courted major syndicated shows on traditional FM formats and persuaded them to make the move to satellite. Making headlines in 2004, shock jock Howard Stern announced his departure from the FM airwaves, joining Sirius in 2006 (Crawford). Based on a review of the Radio and Internet Newsletter weekly quantitative survey data, Houghton notes that of the top ten channels on Sirius, Howard Stern is the most listened to programming on Satellite Radio today, collecting over 1.2 million daily listeners in his first two years on Sirius. As if that weren’t enough, Stern also occupies the number three spot, with his secondary programming, Howard 101, pulling in an additional 500,000 daily listeners (Houghton).

Ironically, the chief programmer for XM Radio is none other than Lee Abrams, the man responsible for introducing the consumer research software that revolutionized the FM radio industry with data driven programming which all but eliminated the personality and autonomy of radio DJs by the 1990’s (Alper). Abrams was quoted as saying:

When [XM radio] started, we threw out the rule book. We had these boot camp sessions to try to liberate everybody from everything they learned about radio. Each channel has its own architecture, blueprints, goals, musical parameters, and mission. The program director of each channel looks at the universe of music and decides what’s right for that channel. The programmer’s responsibility is to serve the listeners that come to that channel. (Alper 508)

There are over 150 channels available on Satellite Radio, most focusing on a single genre or platform. Standard programming was eliminated and station formats were determined based on the audience demand. As an example, the Top 20 on 20 channel plays the billboard top 20 songs for the week. Listeners can expect to hear those songs in rotation. However, the majority of stations have more freedom within their genre, bringing the personality back to radio broadcasting.

In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the merger of XM Radio and Sirius despite protests of a seemingly obvious monopoly being created within the market (Palmer, Henley and Breyley). The FCC reported that as of the time of the application, the total combined subscriber base for the two companies was over 17 million listeners (United States). Although an impressive number after only five years in the business, the numbers have only increased since then with the new SiriusXM brand boasting over 30 million subscribers in 2016 (“Corporate Overview – Siriusxm Radio”).

Who is winning? Satellite or FM Radio?

Based on the numbers it would seem that satellite radio is here to stay as consumers transition away from traditional FM formats to the new satellite options. Although it is unlikely that FM radio will be eliminated completely, SiriusXM is positioned well and has differentiated their product well. As consumers become increasingly dependent on mobile technology, FM radio’s continual effort to form key business partnerships with companies like Radionomy and dotFM will become key to their survival in a tech savvy environment. However, local programming on FM may become a thing of the past as costs increase and ad revenue remains the primary money maker for the industry. Competing with SiriusXM financially may be the most difficult battle for FM broadcasters as the closest FM broadcast conglomerate brings in $1.3 billion annually, while Sirius reported an annual income of over $4.7 billion in 2015 (“Broadcasting – Radio Industry Leaders & Laggards: Industry Center – Yahoo Finance”). Overall the choice is up to the consumer, but if trends and movement hold true, people will continue to migrate to Satellite Radio options as opposed to the FM content to which they have become accustomed listening.

Works Cited

“A Science Odyssey: Radio Transmission: FM Vs AM.” Public Broadcasting Service. N.p., 1998. Web. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from

Alper, Garth. “XM Reinvents Radio’s Future.” Popular Music and Society 29.5 (2006): 505-518. Web.

Barnett, Amanda. “Radio About To Go Higher Tech – May 23, 2001.” CNN. N.p., 2001. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

“Best Inventions Of 2001 – TIME.” TIME. N.p., 2002. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from,28804,1936165_1936240_1936380,00.html.

“Broadcasting – Radio Industry Leaders & Laggards: Industry Center – Yahoo Finance.” Yahoo Finance. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

Carsey, Marcy and Tom Werner. “Father Of Broadcasting DAVID SARNOFF.” TIME. N.p., 1998. Web. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from,9171,989773,00.html.

“Corporate Overview – Siriusxm Radio.” SiriusXM. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

Crawford, Krysten. “Howard Stern Leaves Commercial Radio – Oct. 6, 2004.” CNN Money. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

“Development And Popularization Of FM Radio · The History Of Radio Broadcasting.” Georgia State University. N.p., 2016. Web. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from

“History Of Communications – RADIO: The Quality That Made Radio Popular.” Federal Communications Commission. N.p., 2005. Web. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from

Houghton, Bruce. “Top 10 Stations On Sirius And XM.” Hypebot. N.p., 2008. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

Nobel Lectures. Physics 1901-1921. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, 1967. Print.

“Our Most Popular Packages – Siriusxm Radio.” SiriusXM. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

Palermo, Rae. “United Stations Syndicated FM Radio Shows Find New Life And Revenue Online With Radionomy.” Radionomy. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016, from

Palmer, Steven, David Henley, and James Breyley. “The Epic Tale Of A Merger: An Analysis Of The Sirius-XM Satellite Radio Merger.” Journal of Business, Society & Government 1.2 (2009): 26-61. Print.

“The Development Of Radio.” Public Broadcasting Service Online. N.p., 2009. Web. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from

United States. Federal Communications Commission. Memorandum Opinion and Order and Report and Order at p. 4, In the Matter of Application for Consent to the Transfer of Control of Licenses XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. to Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. MB Docket No. 07-57 [Washington D.C.] FCC, 25 July 2008.

Williamson, Mark. “Satellite Rocks.” Institute of Electrical Engineers Review December (2003): 34-38. Print.

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