Satellite radio lifting off
By Amanda Barnett
(CNN) -- The sky no longer will be the limit for radio fans looking for alternatives to broadcast stations.
XM Satellite Radio is launching service in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and San Diego, California, on September 12. The company says service will be available across the continental U.S. in November.
"We're going to do to radio what DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite) and cable television did to the TV industry...providing lots more choices." said Hugh Panero, president and CEO of XM.
The company says it will offer 100 channels: 71 with music formats, including 30 commercial-free stations. The other 29 channels will have news, talk shows, sports and entertainment programming.
A competing service, called Sirius, is expected to launch later this year.
But unlike its terrestrial counterpart, satellite radio won't be free.
First there's the initial cost of equipment.
Consumers will need special receivers to capture the satellite signal. The receivers start at about $150. XM says receivers will already be installed in some 2002 model cars. And adaptors will be available to allow existing radios to receive the satellite radio signal.
Then there's a monthly service fee. XM is charging $9.99 a month. Sirius will charge $12.95.
And the service area is limited. Neither company is planning worldwide service at this time.
Not very local radio
Most of the programming on XM radio will originate at the company's studios in Washington, New York and Nashville, Tennessee.
The lineup includes: five country music channels; 15 hot hits stations; 10 rock stations; seven urban; six jazz and blues; four dance; five Latin; seven world music formats; four classical stations; two channels aimed at children; eight news stations; four stations with business, finance and technology news; five sports; three comedy and nine variety channels.
Content also will be provided by MTV, ABC, ESPN, NASCAR, USA TODAY, BET, CNBC, The Weather Channel, Bloomberg, and CNN.
How does it work? Will it work?
Many radio listeners already get some programming by satellite. Network newscasts and syndicated programs are bounced off satellites to radio stations across the planet. But the stations rebroadcast the programs over the airwaves.
Satellite radio will bypass the local stations and beam a signal directly from its two satellites (called Rock and Roll) to subscribers similar to the way satellite TV works.
But since many people to listen to radio in their cars, the satellite radio signal also has to be able to hit a moving target, not a dish fixed on the side of a house. And what happens when a car goes through a tunnel or under a long bridge?
"That's the question," said Aaron Brodie, chief engineer and news manager for KNTU-FM in the Dallas suburb of Denton.
"When you get downtown there will be buildings blocking and reflecting. People may find their radios are cutting on or off."
Brodie said the new satellite radio might end up with the same problem that has plagued old-fashioned AM radio: drop out.
But Panero says his company has devices on the ground that will keep the hits coming, even when the satellite signal may not be able to reach cars.
"We have a terrestrial repeater network that will provide signal coverage in dense urban areas where you have tall buildings," he said.
Should local radio be worried?
One thing you won't hear on satellite radio is your local station. And Brodie thinks satellite radio listeners could miss important information.
"You won't know if there is a major storm heading your way, or a traffic tie up," he said.
But he added competition from satellite radio could challenge local stations to offer listeners more programming and fewer commercials.
"Traditional radio is going to have really rethink what it's doing," said Brodie. "Maybe they'll get back to the good old radio days."
CNN Interactive Correspondent Allison Tom contributed to this report.
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