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Internet Radio Beyond the PC

Internet radio listeners can take a step or two away from their PCs and still listen to their favorite Web stations, purchase music CDs with the press of a button and vote on their favorite music early next year when Sonicbox ships the Sonicbox Tuner.

The Sonicbox Tuner, introduced last week at Internet World in New York, allows Internet radio to play through any FM receiver wirelessly via a small antenna attached to a PC’s serial and audio-out ports and a notebook-sized remote control. The Sonicbox Tuner will undergo a test trial this fall and start volume shipments in early 2000. It is expected to sell for less than $50. The Tuner is optimized for use with broadband Internet access due to the low quality and unreliability of 56Kbps modem connections.

David Frerichs, Sonibox’s founder, said the device will give consumers access to about 800 Web and terrestrial broadcast stations available on the Internet. This could prove particularly valuable to Web broadcasters because it gives them a high-quality national outlet, putting them on equal footing with the terrestrial stations that are on the web, he said. The antenna has a 100-foot range and because it broadcasts an FM signal the music is played through the host receiver in full stereo. To receive the signal from the base antenna the stereo receiver is set to a blank frequency, Frerichs said. The computer must also be turned on.

The stations are categorized by format and can be changed by turning a knob on the remote control.

As much as the Sonicbox Tuner is designed as a consumer product, the company has configured it as a money-making tool for the radio stations and other interested parties.

Sonicbox also has technology that would allow the stations to strip in local advertising, in much the same manner as cable companies do with television. “This way someone listening in California to a broadcast from Chicago won’t hear an ad for Zimmerman Ford in Chicago,” Frerichs said.

Several of the remote’s buttons are configured to supply market research information and allow the user to purchase music heard on the radio. Sonicbox and have struck a deal allowing listeners to by an album by pressing a “Tell Me More” button on the remote. This is pressed when song comes on from an album they want to buy. Pressing the button sends a signal back through the PC to and the purchase is automatically completed using address and credit card information already downloaded to Sonicbox.

Listeners can also supply market research data to music companies by pressing another button when a favorite song is played.