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What is WorldSpace radio all about?
Surajeet Das Gupta
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August 19, 2005

When we requested the public relations company handling WorldSpace whether they could provide us the various satellite radios that are available in the country in order to test them, the answer was a diplomatic no.

So, we did the next best -- went to WorldSpace dealers. This didn't help too much either since the two dealers we visited in Delhi didn't have all the models, and some of the ones they had weren't working since company executives in Bangalore needed to key in a password which hadn't been done.

But let's forget the problems, what is WordSpace all about? It's a global satellite radio service which offers an amazing array of programs, through a compatible satellite radio with a special antenna which has to be installed outside the house and must have a free line of site to the satellite without any trees or walls in between.

In other words, your old radio's not good enough if you want to hear what Worldspace has to offer.

Worldspace is not new to India and in its earlier avatar, it was a free channel -- all you needed then was a satellite receiver and the cheapest one, a Hitachi, was available for Rs 4,999. It didn't quite catch the fancy of listeners then, and curiously, it has been relaunched again as a pay channel.

So, apart from the cost of the radio, you have to pay Rs 1,800 a year to be able to hear over 39 different stations. The company does not give out figures of its subscriber base.

When it was a free service, WorldSpace was a blast, and offered music ranging from western to country, jazz, western classical, hip hop, you name it. There were even a few Hindi and local language channels.

Today, with FM in full blast, and virtually everything available on the net, the non-portable WorldSpace doesn't look as great. Though it must be said, it offers an interesting array in its 39 stations.

Apart from the earlier choices, you have Farishta for old Hindi songs, and even Kannada, Telegu, and Bengali channels, Bollywood hits, and Hindi classical music. For those who want to listen to news (something you can't get on FM) you have an array of choices, from NDTV to BBC and CNN WRN.

While that's incentive enough for some to want to still buy WorldSpace, there's another problem, that of a limited number of receiver sets.

You have just four in the market right now, and none of them are international brand names to reckon with, they're either local or Chinese and Indonesian. Earlier, in the previous incarnation of Worldspace you could choose between Hitachi, Panasonic, Sanyo and JVC.

BPL Diva: The cheapest radio offering of course comes from BPL. The Diva comes with a remote control, stereo line out, 10 channel pre-set facility, but needs to be attached to a speaker or your stereo system, which is what I used to do with my Hitachi receiver (even though it had a speaker) to get better quality sound.

To do that, you only need a cable to attach the radio to the auxillary connection of the stereo. The system costs Rs 5,590 (if you buy it from the company) and Rs 6,090 if you get it from a dealer. It comes bundled with one-year subscription.

There could be some disturbance in the station occasionally due to interference from unwanted signals near the Worldspace frequency, but this can be resolved by buying a interference filter or a higher antenna.

BPL Celeste: The other BPL option, the Celeste, is a satellite radio which comes with a cassette-player and recorder, offers you a 3-band radio which includes FM, short wave and medium wave too.

It has 70 watts of music power and ten pre-set memory stations were you can store your favourite Worldspace stations. The sound quality is quite ordinary, but you can always connect it to your stereo for better quality sound.

The price is Rs 6,790 if you buy it from the company, and Rs 7,150 if you buy it from a dealer. And this also comes bundled with one-year subscription free.

Chinese options are available as well, and are useful if you wish to listen to the radio on the PC/laptop. I asked the WorldSpace sales team why the Tongshi (the Chinese radio) is so expensive (Rs 10,600 from the company and Rs 11,800 at the dealers'), especially as it will need to be connected to a speaker to listen to.

He tells me that it is slick looking, light weight (168 grams), has 12 pre-set buttons, boasts of a two line LCD display and runs on only two pencil cells. It also has a remote control and a USB port so that you can connect it to the laptop/PC.

If made in Indonesia does not bother you, there is another choice. The Polytron, like the Celeste, is also a cassette and a tape player. It has a 10 memory presets, for fast access to your favourite channels and a last channel memory recall. Like the Celeste, it has a stereo output for an external amplifier.

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