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Issue dated - 10th March 2003

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Tune in to satellite radio

When private FM channels resumed services, everyone caught the radio bug once again. I remember seeing silvery FM pocket-radios on the footpaths of Mumbai. Like many others, I too tuned in, but the excitement didn’t last long. There were too many commercials and jabbering RJs—and less music. But Satellite radio is different and better than conventional radio in many ways. It’s available in India and it’s much cheaper than subscribing to cable or wireless services.

Satellite radio is a digital broadcast. End-users with specific receivers can pick up programmes from the overhead satellite. Since the broadcast is digital, reception is free from interference; it is fade-free and offers crystal clear sound.

Capt. Mark Nazareth, who has been listening to satellite radio for more than a year, says it is much better than FM radio in many ways. “Since the broadcast is digital you get CD-quality sound. There is either a strong signal or no signal, but no weak signal. Occasionally you do get a break in signal, but that lasts for a few seconds, and it’s very rare.”

Capt. Nazareth says he opted for satellite radio since it offers 24 hours of music on channels dedicated to various genres of music.

Worldspace service
In India, you can tune into WorldSpace, which offers digital broadcast of satellite radio and multimedia services, directly from satellites to portable receivers or PCs. The WorldSpace network has three geo-stationary satellites that have footprints or spot beams over six continents. These three are: AmeriStar (Central and South America), AfriStar (Africa, Europe, Middle East, West Asia), and AsiaStar (Asia, East Europe, Middle East and Western Australia).

Each satellite can support 40 satellite radio channels and a variety of multimedia services.

Channels
The AsiaStar satellite beams both English and Hindi channels. There are free channels and paid/coded channels. Subscribers can pay Rs 199 for three channels for six months. This is a recurring cost. They will receive codes for the three channels and these codes need to be entered into the receiver. One can also avail of additional channels for a nominal fee. For instance one can go in for an additional three Hindi channels by paying Rs 100 for six months.

There are news channels (BBC, CNN, RFI, WRN), info channels and of course music channels. Here is a sampling of some channels:

  • Jazz: RIFF; Up Country; Dance: 24x7; BoB: Latest rock music; The Hop: Music of the 50s, 60s and 70s; Orbit
  • Rock: Classic Rock; Oyeme: Latina Music.

Information on all channels is on the WorldSpace website: www.worldspace.com.

All these channels cater to a specific genre of music. What’s more they offer 24-hour programmes with minimal commercial advertisement in between.

Multimedia Services
Besides music and news, WorldSpace also offers Direct Media—a service that enables you to receive content from select websites on your PC. The content includes global news, financial, health, sports, entertainment, and education. This content can be selectively stored on a user’s hard drive for offline browsing.

To avail of this service you’ll need either a WorldSpace PC card or WorldSpace PC adaptor (which connects to the data port on your receiver).

Receivers
WorldSpace receivers are available through resellers all over India—or you could buy directly from WorldSpace. You’ll find a list of dealers on the WorldSpace website. The following models are available in India: AMI (Rs. 8,490), Joygear II (Rs 8,990), BPL Celeste (Rs. 7,390), BPL Celeste Mk II (Rs. 6,990) and Polytron (Rs 12,490). You can also buy receivers from the grey market or from abroad—but you’re unlikely to get a warranty.

If you have a PC and broadband connection, then you need not buy a receiver. WorldSpace offers a PC card (and the relevant software) that converts a PC into a receiver.

The receivers usually have built-in mono or stereo speakers. But sound quality is much better through the home music system. So make sure the receiver has line-out, optical out (pure digital output) and headphone sockets. Also select a receiver that lets you preset 10 or more channels.

Antenna
Most receivers have a built-in rotatable antenna. That’s great if you plan to take the receiver on picnics. But if your home is surrounded by lots of buildings and trees I’d recommend an outdoor antenna.

“I take my receiver on the ship and have to keep adjusting the outdoor antenna as the ship changes location. But the movement of the ship does not affect the clarity of sound. So I think it is better to listen from a fixed location,” says Capt. Nazareth.

WorldSpace offers accessories like standard and high gain outdoor antennas, low noise amplifiers, and extension cables. The antenna has to be aligned such that it is in line-of-sight with the satellite. WorldSpace technicians or its dealers will install and align the antenna for you.

Few drawbacks
If you are wondering what are the drawbacks, there are few. Cost is not an issue here as the channels are really affordable. Some may find the cost of equipment (receivers, antenna, PC card and adaptor) steep. But users feel they are getting lots of value.

“If you love a specific genre of music like jazz for instance, you can listen to jazz songs throughout the day. Unlike radio, you need not tune in at a specific hour or day for the music you like,” says Capt. Nazareth.

What’s more, you can stop buying CDs and save yourself a packet.

Another drawback is that you don’t get local news and announcements on weather or traffic conditions in your city. However, you can catch CNN or BBC news channels for international news. Some receivers double as AM/FM/MW radios, so you can catch local news by tuning into these stations.

The other drawback is that the receiver is specific to WorldSpace broadcasts as the channels are coded. So if this service suddenly closes down, your receiver becomes a showcase item—unless it has other features like AM/FM radio and a cassette player. But, WorldSpace has been around since 2000 and has global investors, so there’s a small chance of that happening.

So get yourself a WorldSpace receiver and tune in to satellite radio.

Happy listening!

For additional information, E-mail: india@worldspace.com

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