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Radio panacea

Should radio-station owners worry about the new satellite-radio services that are now moving toward the launch pads? It depends. If their stations employ real live people who talk about local events and advertisers, can tell the local weather by just looking out the window and don't lift their playlists from the radio trades, then they can relax a bit. The stations will keep their audiences, even if Sirius and XM, the satellite-to-car startups profiled in our cover story, are roaring successes.

But if their stations are no more than electronic conveyor belts passing along canned programming from some distant studio, they may have some trouble. The satellites can do that and do it better, assuming the untried technology works as well as the companies claim. With 100 channels at its command, each can deliver a panoply of targeted formats with digital quality and few or no commercials-by any measure, a compelling service.

Fortunately, the canned stations have time. In satellite radio's most optimistic scenarios, it will be years before a significant number of people sign up for the services and install receivers in their homes and cars. Every station should use this time to inoculate itself against the satellite threat. The vaccine: a programmer for every station and a person in every studio.