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Command Audio Gears Up For 4th-Quarter Launch

Command Audio has teamed up with about 100 content providers for a personalized audio-on-demand information service delivered by FM subcarriers to a handheld Thomson-made receiver. However, the company has delayed its rollout until the fourth quarter to ensure the widest possible coverage within its targeted metro areas, company executives told TWICE.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Command Audio developed the service for commuters, particularly those driving to work, who like most people are overloaded with information choices. “The range and volume of media keep growing and the time to consume it keeps shrinking,” said chairman Donald Bogue.

Consumers can personalize their content to include a mix of time-shifted radio and TV programs such as Nightline and Dr. Laura, audio versions of content from national magazines and local newspapers, and real-time traffic alerts and reports for routes selected by individual users from a menu of routes. Users can also hear stock quote updates on companies they select. The receivers store six hours of programming.

Command said it is talking to manufacturers to integrate the receiver into car audio and navigation systems. But in its initial form, the receiver is a handheld portable model that users can place in a dash-mounted cradle.

The device, which operates off batteries or gets power via a cigarette-lighter adapter, transmits stored programs through an unused FM-station frequency to a car’s stereo system. It also has a built-in speaker and earphone jack for mass-transit commuters.The $14.99-$19.99/month subscription service and $199-suggested-retail RCA-co-branded receiver were to be available in Denver and Phoenix in the late second quarter, but the rollout was pushed back to the fourth quarter, said Bogue. Expansion to eight additional markets was pushed back to the first quarter of next year from the fourth quarter. “We think we’ll have 40 markets by the end of the year 2000,” he said.

Command and Thomson are using the extra time to make sensitivity-boosting design changes to the receiver to expand coverage in metropolitan areas, Bogue added.

Command, the service’s content aggregator, distributes its compressed digital audio content via satellite to multiple FM stations with a given market. The stations rebroadcast the information via FM subcarriers. Although the same information is broadcast to all subscribers in a market and is updated regularly, the device plays back only the programs entered by a user in his or her receiver’s two playlists. Consumers can also skip from program to program and pause programs.

Information is available in 21 categories, including sports, sports talk shows, and other talk shows. Traffic information compiled by Metro Networks will be more timely and more useful than reports broadcast by radio stations, Bogue said, because consumers will get information on incidents when they occur rather than have to wait for a radio station report. In addition, radio stations don’t report all incidents that they know about because of a lack of time, he said.

In smaller markets, the service is particularly appealing because “the range of available news and information services is relatively narrow,” Bogue noted.