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Satellites + radio = big changes for listeners

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''All Things Considered.'' ''Morning Edition.'' ''The Sunday Show.'' ''Jazz Alive.'' To listeners of National Public Radio, these and other programs have become welcome friends, the fruits of a blossoming public radio system.

At the same time, they are prime examples of how technology is changing radio: All are sent to NPR affiliates by satellite, which is is also revolutionizing many other areas of communication. The impact of satellite on radio listeners - who compose about 95 percent of all Americans, according to industry figures - is on many fronts.

One is in audio quality. Shows coming from New York or Washington, where most radio networks are based, will sound much clearer on local stations, both AM and FM. Satellite also enables networks to send shows in stereo.

Another effect will be in programming. Because transmission will be much clearer, listeners can expect to hear more shows sent from long distances. At this point, most of what is heard on radio originates locally (much of the time using taped music).

Diversity is another benefit. There should be an increasing variety of music shows (including live concerts), sports events, news and feature specials, and other programs benefiting from higher quality sound.

Satellite, because of its efficiency and the resulting cost savings, has given many companies a chance to try to elbow their way into the industry and become new ''networks.'' These networks offer everything from round-the-clock ''top 40'' rock shows (identical in format to most local shows) to specialized news shows.

At this point, the radio industry is in the midst of the changeover to satellite transmission. Along with NPR, the five major radio networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Mutual, RKO) will have switched to satellite by the end of this year. Mutual and RKO, in fact, are already using it, along with a number of new networks.


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