Satellite radio – Sirius and XM – was supposed to be a breath of fresh air.

Freedom! No FCC censorship; wide-open programming.

Well, sort of.

There’s no censorship – but lots of commercials. Some of the talk channels are literally 40-50 percent ads. Debt relief; buy gold NOW; sex aids and get rich quick schemes. Sometimes these come in nonstop blocks that go on for ten minutes or more at a stretch.

Granted, the music channels aren’t salted with all this crap, but the fact is a lot of people have things called MP3 players and music storage hard drives and CDs and prefer to listen to music of their own choosing. They subscribe to satellite to hear the talk stuff – especially Howard Stern and the political stuff. But it is grating to have to listen to an endless onslaught of shyster ads along the way – especially given that you are paying to hear them.

Free radio and TV, ok. They have to make money and the way they make money is to put commercials on air. The commercials subsidize the programming. That’s the deal and it’s understood and more to the point, it’s a reasonable bargain. You aren’t paying anything (directly) to get the broadcast, so you put up with the pushy advertising.

But there is something not right about paying to hear commercials, which is what you’re being forced to do with satellite radio (assuming you want the programming).

It’s a big drag.

If the music channels can be commercial-free, then the talk channels could be commercial-free also. To make up for the lost revenue, up the subscription. Charge people an extra $5 per month. Who doubts they’d pay it gratefully to not have to be assaulted by god-damned ads for once?

Beyond the commercials, you’re also compelled to buy all sorts of programming you likely have zero interest in – in my case, a dozen sports channels – in order to get the two or three talk/news/entertainment channels you do wish to listen to, like Howard Stern.

There is no technological reason why programming couldn’t be a la carte.

You pick (and pay for) the content you want – and that’s it. How many of us regularly listen to more than 10 or 20 channels anyhow? Yet we have to wade through 150-plus channels – and pay for them – to get to what we do want.

It’s bullshit. And not only that, we’re being made to subsidize the crap we don’t want to listen to.

Isn’t forcing people to buy what they don’t want or need the job of government?

That’s not the only way SiriusXM picks your pockets, either.

For instance, let’s say you’re already a subscriber and decide to buy a new vehicle and want satellite radio in the new vehicle as well as the car you’ve already got. You’d assume the only thing you’d need to buy would be the satellite-ready radio for the new vehicle. After all, you are already a subscriber, right? Well, just like the Cable company, SiriusXM will charge you a separate fee to hook up the second vehicle’s radio.

Similarly, you’d think that since XM merged with Sirius and became one company (SiriusXM) you’d be able to get XM programming if you were formerly a Sirius subscriber and Sirius stuff if you were an XM subscriber.

Well, you can – for a fee. To get Howard Stern’s program on XM, for example, you have to pay more – even if you are already paying to hear him on Sirius. And bear in mind, the Stern Show is not part of the basic Sirius package; you have to pay extra to get him, up front. But if you want to hear him on XM too, you have to pay again – on top of what you already paid to get him on Sirius.

One annoyed subscriber writes:

“I just purchased a new Ford truck, the flyer at the Ford dealer has XM channels listed. Being an XM customer I thought I could just add a second radio, but no not so. I need to open a new Sirius account at higher rate than just adding a second radio to my XM account. Get’s better, the flyer showed XM/Sirius channel listing, but when I tried to access my station (Village – channel 15) guess what, not available on my Ford Sirius radio.”

Also, coverage can be spotty.

Drive underneath a thick tree canopy and the signal cuts out. If you live in a mountainous area, the tuner will frequently go blank – “searching for signal” – for as long as 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. This always seems to happens just when you’re getting really interested in whatever you’re listening to. When the signal comes back, it’s invariably just in time for another 10 minute block of commercials.

I speak from experience. Each week I test drive a new car or truck, many equipped with either Sirius or XM. I have sampled literally hundreds of vehicles, different makes and models, types and price ranges – you name it – all over this country. So I can report on this with some authority.

It’s a monster pain in the ass. Sure, satellite is better on long-haul road trips because (unlike FM) you don’t lose the signal entirely once you get “x” distance away from the source. But in real life, most people drive to and fro locally, most of the time – and if the satellite signal is constantly cutting out sporadically, it amounts to the same thing.

It’s no surprise to me that SiriusXM is in trouble, losing subscribers and (apparently) dead in the water right now. Reportedly, the company nearly went bankrupt in 2009 before Liberty Media Corp. bought 40 percent of the company for $530 million.

Listeners – and I am one – want to be supportive but it’s hard to feel happy about being force-fed commercials on pay-for-service radio, being double-billed for the same content you’ve already paid for, having to subsidize content you have zero interest in and deal with the aggravating technical problems that for all its faults don’t plague “free” radio.

I think SiriusXM could right itself and maybe even make some money if it figured out a way to get rid of most of the pushy commercials it currently loads up its talk/news/entertainment channels with, let people buy only the programming they wanted on an a la carte basis – and merged their channels into a single menu from which people could pick and choose – rather than maintaining XM on the one hand and Sirius on the other.

That would be in keeping with the Libertarian promise of satellite radio – in contrast to the bureaucratized, DMV-like mess it has turned out to be.