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Satellite radio shoots for June launch

CD-quality sound via satellite is closer to launch-literally-than is terrestrial digital radio.

One of the two companies that plan to offer digital radio via satellite, Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. recently set the date for launching its first satellite: June 28. Sirius' second satellite is slated for launch this September, and the third and final one will blast off in October.

That's a long shot, however, from Sirius' original plans. The New York-based company, then known as Satellite CD Radio, in May 1990 said its commercial satellite-to-car service would begin in 1994. As recently as Feb. 1, Sirius (in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission) said its satellite launches would be concluded by May.

The current plan is to offer CD-quality radio to U.S. customers via satellite at the end of the year, the company said on April 3.

In a programming announcement, Sirius last Wednesday said Playbill and the League of America Theatres and Producers will create daily features, specials and live programming for one of its 100 satellite-delivered channels called "Broadway Best."

Sirius' only competitor, XM Satellite Radio, in an earlier incarnation in 1992, said it would launch its first satellite in 1994. While firm launch dates for XM's two satellites have not yet been set, the first could go up in late November, with the second to follow in January or February 2001, a company spokeswoman said last Wednesday.

Also last week, XM said Avis Rent A Car has agreed to become the first rental-car fleet to offer XM satellite radio, along with traditional AM and FM signals, to its customers.