Digital Radio Still Waiting To Take Off

One of the hottest audio technologies at the recent CES, as far as the general public was concerned, wasn't SACD, or DVD-Audio, or even new MP3 players. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, digital satellite radio jumped into the limelight by announcing its impending rollout this year. Two companies are poised to compete for the top spot, lining up car manufacturers and CE companies in a classic format battle that is sure to heat up by summer.

On the one hand, we have Sirius Satellite Radio, which is currently up and running with their first 100 channels of non-commercial programming available for $9.95/month, and on the other, XM Satellite Radio, which was supposed to literally get off the ground last week. In fact, XM is still on the launchpad after Sea Launch, the company handling the rocketry for XM, scrapped lofting the digital audio broadcast satellite some 30 seconds before the planned liftoff.

The launch was supposed to send up the first of two digital audio broadcast satellites, named "Rock" and "Roll." Like Sirius, XM plans to offer 100 channels of subscription digital programming for a $9.95 monthly service fee. Radios for both services are expected to debut first in cars as a several-hundred-dollar option.

Sea Launch says that "in staying [within] conservative mission parameters, yesterday's launch countdown was halted when a possible minor out-of-specification condition was detected on the satellite. Shortly after the launch was halted, the possible out-of-specification condition was determined to be within specification, and the satellite remains in excellent health. However, the launch halt command was issued within seconds prior to intentional ignition, and occurred after some engine pre-ignition processes had commenced. The decision has been made to return to Sea Launch's Long Beach Home Port and initiate a re-start of the 50-day launch preparedness cycle for XM-1."

According to Sea Launch, it has rescheduled the launch of the XM-1 digital audio radio satellite for Wednesday, February 28, 2001. As a consequence, XM's new projection for the launch of XM-2 is now mid-April. XM claims that its revised timetable will still allow the company to roll out its planned service this summer.