Digital Airwaves Arrive

Those unhappy with today's over-the-air broadcasting choices will be glad to know that this is shaping up as a busy year for new radio formats. The commercialization of the IBOC AM and FM digital broadcasting system is about to be revealed at the same time that Sirius satellite radio announces that it will be accelerating its rollout schedule in an effort to compete with rival XM satellite radio.

Executives from the broadcasting, retail, and consumer electronics industries, along with iBiquity Digital representatives, are planning a press conference next Monday, April 8 at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention to explain the rollout strategy for the new IBOC (In Band On Channel) DAB (digital audio broadcasting) AM/FM technology.

The panelists are expected to formally describe the new digital broadcast technology to consumers and explain what role their companies or trade organizations will play in the coordinated rollout of IBOC, which they claim represents the "most significant industry enhancement since the advent of FM broadcasting."

The NAB Convention will also see the commercial introduction of IBOC exciters (the equipment needed at the radio station to generate the digital signals) by transmission equipment manufacturers. A number of other IBOC-compatible products, such as transmitters, filters and combiners, and audio processing products are being revealed at the show.

NAB Convention visitors are also expected to hear live digital broadcasts from Las Vegas stations KLUC-FM (98.6) and KSFN-AM (1140) via an array of working prototype digital receivers from Kenwood, Harman/Kardon, JVC, and Visteon. iBiquity says other demonstrations will include previews of new services enabled by IBOC's wireless data services, such as "interactive commerce" and "on-demand" traffic and weather updates.

On March 27, Sirius announced it is expanding and accelerating its regional rollout plan for its satellite radio service. Following the company's service launch, which began February 14 in Denver, Houston, Phoenix, and Jackson, Sirius says it will now offer service in 39 states over the next 60 days, with full nationwide distribution available July 1.

The company's Joseph P. Clayton comments, "Accelerating our national launch, strengthening our plans with our OEM car manufacturers, plus the favorable renegotiation of our credit obligations, clearly demonstrate that Sirius is moving forward on all cylinders."

In accelerating its nationwide rollout, the company says, it will introduce service on a state-by-state basis, beginning in April with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa. Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana will all be in service by May 1. More states will follow, first in the Midwest, then the South and, finally, the far West and far East sections of the country, completing the nationwide rollout by July 1 instead of August 1 as previously announced.

Nissan announced last week that satellite radio systems will be available in several of its 2003 model Nissan and Infiniti division vehicles being introduced later this year. Unlike some auto makers, the car company says it will offer customers a choice of both satellite radio providers, Sirius and XM. Sirius also recently announced a distribution agreement with Volkswagen/Audi to offer its satellite radios in early 2003.