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Digital Radio Airing At CES

Digital audio radio service (DARS) will hold its coming-out party at CES, where proponents of various satellite and terrestrial technologies plan to educate retailers about their product and programming plans, conduct live or simulated broadcasts, and display sample radios.

The Digital Radio Pavilion at the Sands convention center will be the focus of the show’s DARS activities, but digital radio displays will also turn up in the booths of various manufacturers, including Clarion, Delco, Pioneer and Recoton.

To demonstrate the sound quality of its terrestrial in-band on-channel (IBOC) technology, USA Digital Radio (USADR) is working out plans with a Las Vegas radio station to conduct live broadcasts that will be heard on sample receivers. Lucent, which has developed a rival IBOC technology, doesn’t plan to equip a radio station for live broadcasts.

The two satellite DARS providers – Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio – won’t be able to demonstrate actual broadcast reception because they haven’t launched their satellites.

Nonetheless, XM will simulate broadcasts of four of its planned 100 channels to demonstrate the types of programming it will offer.

For its part, Sirius (formerly CD Radio) will highlight its programming prowess by letting dealers listen to 50 to 60 channels of planned programming. Sirius will also build a broadcast studio in which some of its on-air talent will conduct mock radio broadcasts.

The DARS activities at CES will occur as the two satellite services get closer to commercial launch and as a late-January deadline approaches for submitting initial comments to the FCC on how terrestrial service ought to be implemented.

Sirius, which plans to launch its three satellites in the first half, plans late-2000 commercial availability of 100 channels of subscription programming. XM Satellite plans an early 2001 commercial launch of its 100-channel subscription service.

On the terrestrial side, digital broadcasts could begin in about 200 markets in early 2001 if the FCC mandates Lucent’s technology by the end of 2000, as the company hopes, said Ben Benjamin, Lucent senior product development VP. Receivers could be out by the second quarter of 2001, he said.

USADR president Robert Struble has said he believes terrestrial broadcasters could begin implementing digital as soon as the late third quarter of 2000 or early fourth quarter, with receivers available in the late first quarter of 2001.

Here’s what the various DARS proponents plan at CES:

Lucent: No terrestrial IBOC demos are planned in conjunction with Las Vegas radio stations, nor will Lucent participate in the pavilion, but Lucent literature will be distributed by its two receiver licensees, Recoton (at the Sands) and Harman Kardon (at a hotel suite). Lucent will meet off site with its customers.

USADR: A Las Vegas FM station will transmit digital stereo to a prototype USADR home receiver in the Digital Radio Pavilion and in Kenwood’s booth in the Las Vegas convention center, said marketing director Dave Salemi. USADR also plans to whisk manufacturers and select retailers around Las Vegas in a receiver-equipped demo vehicle to demonstrate on-the-road reception.

USADR envisions home and car receivers being available simultaneously at launch, he said.

A third terrestrial IBOC developer, Digital Radio Express (DRE), recently announced support for USADR’s terrestrial technology, he noted. DRE will focus on developing specialized data applications for USADR’s system.

Sirius Satellite Radio: In the pavilion, demo head units in vehicles and in listening stations will play back samples of 50 to 60 channels of planned programming. The company’s hardware partners will supply sample head units that will let attendees switch among the various Sirius programs. It wasn’t clear whether the program material would be recorded onto CDs for playback in the units.

The head units are meant not to demonstrate a particular manufacturer’s planned final product or user interface, but they will demonstrate the broadcaster’s service offerings, said receiver marketing VP Doug Wilsterman.

Sirius also plans to show off its on-air talent and infrastructure, said marketing VP Terrence Sweeney. Not only will the company’s on-air personalities provide samples of their planned programs, but the company will demonstrate its digital switching, routing, and editing software “to show how we take a couple million titles and make our service happen,” Sweeney said.

Also in pavilion, Sirius will erect a video wall to play back informational videos, and an interactive kiosk will enable attendees to get information when a booth attendant is unavailable.

Sirius will also have a presence in all of its licensees’ booths with freestanding kiosks or with displays integrated into the licensees’ booths, Sweeney said. “Most of our partners will have demo units, not to demonstrate the technology, but to demo the service offerings and how you will interact with it,” he added.

Sirius has licensing agreements for OEM and aftermarket sales with Alpine, Clarion, Delco, Panasonic, Recoton and Visteon, and it has secured a commitment from Ford to offer Sirius products as early as the first quarter of 2001.

XM Satellite Radio: The company will simulate satellite broadcasts to demonstrate its programming strategy. Dealers will hear four different types of programming planned for four of the company’s 100 channels. The programming will be recorded on CDs for playback through listening stations and in demo systems installed in demo vehicles.

Two channels that dealers will hear are called XM Originals because “there are no formats like them on radio,” said Dan Murphy, VP of retail marketing and distribution. One of the two is called Fine Tuning, which plays classical-orchestra versions of songs by modern artists such as Frank Zappa. The channel “is designed to bring new listeners to classical,” Murphy said.

The other XM Original is 20 On 20, which each day will play back the top 20 songs requested by listeners during that day.

The two other program formats that dealers will hear are “enhanced versions of existing formats that are out there in a limited way,” Murphy said. Hank’s Place, one of XM’s planned country channels, will play back classic country music. The other is the Oldies 80s channel, which will encompass songs from that decade, DJ chatter about events of that decade, and possibly 1980s news clips.

In three vehicles and in the listening stations in XM’s portion of the pavilion, modified head units will lets users switch among the four XM programs. The head units will be connected to cosmetic samples of XM receiver modules and antennas. The head units will be made by Alpine, Delco, Mitsubishi Electric, and Pioneer. XM will display portables and home receivers at the 2001 show, said Murphy.

XM listening stations will also appear in the Delco and Clarion booths, and non-working displays will appear in the Alpine, Audiovox, and Pioneer booths, Murphy said.

The three XM demo vehicles in the pavilion will be a Cadillac STS furnished with a Delco-made XM system, a Saab convertible outfitted by Pioneer, and a Mitsubishi Eclipse with a Mitsubishi Electric radio. Static head units will be on display from other XM licensees.

For its part, Motorola plans to demonstrate a telematics system based on an XM receiver to deliver XM programming and enable such remote car operations as emergency remote door unlocking.

To date, XM has licensed its technology to Alpine and Pioneer for OEM and aftermarket sales; Delphi Delco, Clarion and Motorola for OEM sales; and Sharp for home and portable audio. At CES, XM plans to announce a licensing agreement with Audiovox for OEM sales.

In addition, General Motors has already placed an order with Delco for XM-equipped CD and cassette head units for availability to consumers early in calendar year 2001. Previously GM said it was targeting a launch date in the 2002 model year. GM is the only automaker to sign a contract to buy satellite radios, XM noted.