Digital Radio Update

In the race to get satellite radio to market, XM Satellite Radio was the first to hit the air this past September. But competitor Sirius says they were saving the best for last, and has now announced that its official launch date will be as early next year as February 14, with initial broadcasts reaching Denver, Phoenix, and Houston.

Sirius' John Scelfo says, "This is a big day for Sirius. With our infrastructure fully in place and strong relationships with our retail, electronics, and automotive partners, we will offer consumers a great value and a great product." The company says that manufacturers Kenwood, Panasonic, Jensen, and Clarion "will have units rolling off the assembly line and onto store shelves in advance of our service launch." Sirius reports that as of October 31, it had enough cash on hand to fund operations through at least the end of 2002.

Sirius also announced last week that it has expanded its music lineup to include 60 channels of "100% commercial free music" (XM radio claims 30 commercial-free channels), which will originate from the company's national broadcast studio and be transmitted from its three satellites orbiting directly over the United States. Sirius says its channel mix also includes 40 channels of sports, news, and entertainment programming, including content from CNBC, CNN Headline News, Fox News, ESPNews, Discovery, and A&E.

But why Denver, Phoenix, and Houston? Sirius claims that these three markets encompass approximately 10.5 million people, including over 1.4 million commuters who spend at least an hour a day driving to and from work. In contrast, XM chose to launch in the San Diego and Dallas/Fort Worth areas and expects to cover most of the country by the end of this month.

According to Sirius, it has exclusive agreements to install AM/FM/SAT radios in Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Volvo, Mazda, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles. The company says it will also have home and portable products available at retailers such as Circuit City, Best Buy, Good Guys, Tweeter, and Crutchfield. XM has allied itself with General Motors and Honda and with audio component manufacturers Sony, Alpine, and Pioneer.