This holiday season I decided to do something long overdue and I signed up for Sirius satellite radio service. I did my research about the receivers available and compared both Sirius and XM Radio’s programming and decided to go with Sirius, mainly to listen to Adam Curry’s Podshow and Howard Stern. The radio in the 1992 Saab convertible I am driving was pretty bad with very poor FM reception so I opted for an in-dash solution for the Sirius reception. I received for Christmas a Kenwood MP828 receiver that is Sirius and iPod ready to replace the old Sony deck in the Saab. While the Kenwood is “ready” for Sirius and the iPod that just means the deck will control them if you add the external receivers and decks necessary. So I threw in the Sirius receiver with antenna and the Kenwood iPod control interface which allows you to connect the iPod and run it from the deck. An added benefit of the Kenwood iPod interface is always having a fully charged iPod, since it charges it while it’s connected.
I purchased all three units at Best Buy the week before Christmas and got good pricing due to sales and the salesman informed me that installation was free at their store. This sounded great so they pulled the three units and sent me to the installers in the back of the store. I spoke with the lead installer for a good fifteen minutes about my car and the install. Contrary to what the salesman in the store implied, the installer said the base unit installation was free but the two additional units would be around $50 each due to the amount of work they required. I was OK with that and even though misled I felt that was fair. He told me they were totally booked until noon the day after Christmas but would make me the first appointment of the day so off I went, quite happy with the good deal I received.
The day of the installation was yesterday so excitedly I headed out to Best Buy a little early to make sure I did indeed get the first slot of the day but when I pulled into the install area I was quite surprised to find at least a dozen cars lined up outside the install area and four cars being worked on. I cornered the lead installer (different person) and explained that I was supposed to be the first install that day since they were opening at noon that day. She laughed and said they had been open since 7 AM just like every day and that installs were first come first served. Needless to say I was not very amused to hear that and explained that I was given an appointment for noon. She pulled out the appointment book from a drawer and looked and sure enough, the only appointment for the entire week was me at noon. Seems the original installer who made the “appointment” just wanted to get rid of me the day I bought the gear. Not a good beginning to the install but she told me they were just finishing one of the cars and they would start mine right behind it. Installation was estimated to take about two hours and I could go shopping or eat lunch and they would call me when it was done.
I asked the installers where they were going to install the satellite antenna because I had done my homework and found that the antenna needs a good line of sight to the satellites and should be put either on the roof or on the trunk deck for convertibles, which my Saab is. They told me they always install them on the dash by the windshield and that it works perfectly from that location. I questioned that and explained that Sirius recommends putting it outside the car for proper reception but they adamantly informed me that they had installed thousands of antennas over the past two years and the dash was fine for “perfect” reception. They also told me that the antenna cable provided in the Sirius kit I purchased would not reach all the way to the trunk so they really had no choice but to put it on the dash. I left to get something to eat and leave them to their work with any uneasy feeling about the antenna location but there was nothing further I could do at that point as they were going to install it on the dash or not at all.
An hour into the install I got a call from the installers informing me that the install was going well but they couldn’t get the FM reception to come in properly. It would work and then get static, which is what I experienced with the old receiver I was replacing. I explained that to them and suggested that it must be the antenna since the new deck was doing the same thing. The installer said he thought it was the new Kenwood deck and if they had another one he would try it but they were sold out. He suggested I let him try an upgraded deck, sure it was slightly more expensive but he thought it would solve the FM reception problem. It took me five minutes of firm conversation to tell him that it was obviously the antenna and not the new deck since two different decks had already exhibited the problem and that upgrading to a new deck was not the solution. He then said he would try to make it work but it probably needed a new antenna. I asked him if they could replace the antenna and the response was yes, but not today since they were so busy and that would take too much time. My response was that since they would be charging me for the antenna replacement why did that matter? If I had ordered the antenna replaced when I first dropped the car off they would have done it but now that it’s an unexpected replacement they didn’t have time for it. The end result, he left the old antenna and recommended I bring it back to them in a couple of weeks when they weren’t so busy. Not a good solution but since I was going to have Sirius radio and the iPod to listen to I said OK. I just wanted to get out of there at this point.
At the three hour mark they called me again and said it was ready to go so I headed back to Best Buy to pick it up. I paid almost $200 for the install because I did not bring my receipt back with me (that was never mentioned as a requirement) and they wouldn’t give me the free deck install. I would have to bring my receipt back in the future and get credited for that part of the install. Not good but better than nothing. The installer then activated my Sirius service and tested everything (except the lousy FM reception) and since everything worked fine off I went.
After driving around for hours it is apparent to me the dash-mounted antenna is causing frequent reception drop-outs, particulary when I make sharp turns. The antenna is losing the satellite lock and I get two or three seconds of digital noise until it locks on again. Needless to say I am not happy about this at all.
When I got home I pulled out the installation instructions for all three of the units and read them cover to cover. The Sirius receiver instructions states quite clearly that the only place to install the antenna on any vehicle is outside the vehicle. The antenna is magnetic and must be installed on an external metal surface which provides optimum line of sight and it helps ground the antenna for best reception. The instructions stop just short of stating that installing the antenna inside a vehicle should be avoided. The manual also points out that the antenna wire is 21 feet long to make sure it will reach anywhere it needs to be installed outside the vehicle. Now I am seriously (pun intended) ticked off at Best Buy. They have installed the satellite antenna improperly, even after I told them that was the case. And it’s not just my install, their own admission is that mounting them on the dash is their standard (and only) location that they will install them. This is just so wrong and Best Buy satellite radio customers are putting up with dropouts and probably assuming that they are normal for satellite radio reception. Sirius needs to do something about this and I will take this up with them and see what their response is.
I am very interested to hear from satellite radio owners who have had professional installation of their receivers in the vehicle. I would like to know who did your install and where they mounted the antenna, and how is your reception.