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Symphony Goes Interactive

Having gone public with its Symphony Digital Radio project last fall, Motorola now says some versions of the digitally-processed analog radio will be interactive.

AUSTIN, Texas Having gone public with its Symphony Digital Radio project last fall, Motorola now says some versions of the digitally-processed analog radio will be interactive.

After-market versions of the radio are due in the fourth quarter of the year, and original equipment in-dash versions will come next year, said John Hansen, director of marketing, driver information systems, for Motorola.

Some radio groups, including Clear Channel, are interested in the concept.

Motorola estimates its Symphony radios would cost approximately $20 more than current analog radios at retail. Motorola says the radio will sound better for a longer period of time before losing the signal than current analog radios, for a fraction of the cost of an HD Radio and minimal cost to stations.

Symphony uses digital signal processors to filter and improve signal reception in place of analog circuits. The radio combines the DSPs with an RF front end and intermediate-frequency analog interface.

The resurgence of RDBS

Motorola is pairing its Symphony Digital Radio chipset with capabilities from StratosAudio and Hyundai Autonet to demonstrate by September what they say is a competitively priced interactive receiver and broadcast system with content identification and one-button purchase capabilities.

Features the three companies are developing include real-time response, purchase and digital download of on-air events.

Kelly Christensen of Stratos Audio said, “We’re incorporating Stratos Audio Software on a Symphony chip. We’re essentially using RBDS on a return channel using wireless networks,” so a company contacted by a listener can communicate with that listener and complete a purchase.

To be involved with the project, stations would need specialized software loaded into a radio data system/radio broadcast data system encoder at their facilities so their FM subcarriers could carry the data to the receivers. In exchange for providing the free software, Stratos Audio and Motorola ask the stations to promote the service on-air.

Stations would not receive lease income under the Symphony plan. This begs the question: Why would stations adopt it and how would they make money on it?

“The broadcaster is sending out the information on their subcarrier. They can get a few pennies off what’s sold,” said Christensen. Stations can use the technology to send information to their loyal listeners via a station Web site or text messages delivered to listeners’ cell phones and further develop those relationships, he said.

Stratos Audio makes money from the distribution of content; Motorola will sell Symphony chips to receiver manufacturers and also gets a slice of every radio sold.

“We see interactive advertising as a real potential for revenue” with real-time demographic and reporting services that would be interested in the purchase information, said Christensen.

The premise is similar to what Arbitron wants to accomplish with its Portable People Meter, he said, but not as broad as Arbitron’s scope because the audience research company is trying to track listening for every station in a market. Symphony, on the other hand, would track purchases or requests for information for some individual radios tuned to participating stations.

For example, with Symphony, there is the potential to track how listeners at certain stations are responding to promotions or ads. “We can track how often they pushed the button, and did they buy it or not,” said Hansen.

The StratosAudio Broadcast Management Software is designed to deliver a real — time playlist data feed to the RDS encoder for identification of on — air content in addition to data population of the station Web site, mobile devices such as cell phones and interactive Symphony digital radio receivers.

One large broadcaster, at least, is interested.

“We are intrigued by the marriage of Motorola Symphony digital radio’s enhanced audio and StratosAudio’s interactive services and look forward to experimenting with those capabilities,” said Jeff Littlejohn, senior vice president of Engineering, Clear Channel Radio, in a statement released by Motorola.

Littlejohn said listeners seem to want title and artist information, and Symphony marries that concept with listener fulfillment. The radio group has not decided which markets to test the concept in, nor when to begin the trials.

“Clear Channel is looking at it, experimenting with it, and thinking about what interactive radio in 2003 will mean to Clear Channel,” according to Hansen, who said that other radio groups it could not yet name are also interested in testing Symphony’s interactive abilities.