New service beams music from outer space to anywhere in the US

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XM Satellite Radio, a new digital radio service, makes many promises. But perhaps the one most likely to strike the heart of a veteran commuter - or anyone, for that matter, who has ever hit the great wide open in a set of wheels - is this: no static.

It's not an empty promise. XM, which launched in September, delivers 100 channels to subscribers via two satellites - wherever and whenever in the US. So, the same program you get in Orlando, you can get in Seattle. Because it's digital, the sound quality is on par with a CD. (Of course, should you venture into tunnels, expect the same fate as someone on a cellphone.)

Since FM was introduced more than 30 years ago, radio technology has remained virtually unchanged. While the concept for satellite radio has existed for nearly a decade, "it's only in recent years that you could get a satellite signal that was strong enough for a moving car," says XM CEO Hugh Panero. He predicts XM will do for radio what cable did for TV.

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New stereos with XM compatibility are available at stores such as Circuit City and average about $150 more than stereos without XM. Plus, some GM car models already come equipped with AM/FM/XM radios. But older stereos and radios will need a separate receiver, which works much like a cable box. Sony and Pioneer both make the devices, ranging from about $250 to $300.

Unlike cable, subscriptions are one size fits all: $9.99 a month for 100 channels. Most of the channels carry original programming developed in XM's Washington studios. There are 71 music channels (30 of which are commercial-free) in addition to sports, talk, children's, and entertainment channels. A subscription also pays for several 24-hour news stations including CNN, Headline News, and the BBC World Service.

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