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Bring back the music

The WorldSpace ‘obituary’ on this page earlier this month had readers asking for alternatives – and demanding to revive the service.
By Prasanto K Roy | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 23, 2010 09:39 PM IST

The Day the Music Died?’ (January 10) got me responses from WorldSpace listeners, and from restaurants and hotels fully dependent on the service. Of 17 mails I got, only two were keen on a refund. Most wanted to know about how to replace the service – or even (a rare response to an obituary!) how to revive it. For a service with such abysmal customer support, this is a good indicator of the demand for a 24-hour digital music source.

Can’t say I enjoyed your obituary of WorldSpace for I’m one of the many still in deep anguish over the loss of my music. As are the rest of our family, including my mother and mother-in-law. You mentioned speaking to a coffee shop manager about alternate digital music players. What are these alternatives? As a former hotelier, I am aware of programmable players for multiple public areas and rooms, but these are commercial in nature and terribly expensive. Is there something for domestic use? Something like WorldSpace? Jehangir J Ghadiali

At home, you have several options if you’re looking for a digital music source. One is to simply load all of your music onto an iPod or other MP3 player, and stick it into a dock. There are some great iPod docks, some with remote controls, and a few that also let you output your music into an audio system. But obviously, this source is limited to your own collection, so it’s very far removed from WorldSpace.

The second option is to connect up your PC to an audio system (or a good PC speaker system, such as the Bose Companion 2 for around Rs 5k) and connect on the Web to Internet radio. That’s a source way bigger than WorldSpace. For instance, live365.com lists over 6,000 Internet radio stations, of the over 16,000 available. You could additionally store all of your own music collection in the same PC, to get an integrated home digital music source.

The third, and possibly neatest, option is to buy an Internet radio set. These usually have built in wi-fi, so you can place them anywhere you have a wi-fi signal. Most will let you output to your audio system, so you have 24-hour piped music. There are many options in the $200 range, though these are not easily available in India.

Caveat: For Internet radio, do take an unlimited data plan on your broadband connection. Even a 256 kbps unlimited plan is better than a 2 Mbps limited plan, for streaming music.

Shop Talk
We run several coffee shops in Bangalore and Mumbai, and the loss of WorldSpace has hit us hard. What are the alternatives you mentioned? What do they cost? Are they available in India? R Sivaraman

The Internet radio device and PC options are both usable, but there’s a third option for commercial use – an alternative to the iPod-in-a-dock (which is impractical for heavy-duty usage, and prone to theft). That’s the jukebox. While the traditional one is a mechanical CD changer, digital jukeboxes like the Philips Streamium have a hard disk, into which you upload your CDs. As hotels and restaurants often repeat music from a small collection, typically a dozen MP3 CDs would do for most shops. You’d output the jukebox to your regular music system.

Another easy option is using any audio system or DVD player with a USB drive, and load all your music on thumb drives (a few hundred rupees each). This is probably the cheapest option, other than simply using an old PC.

Your column was a fitting tribute to the WorldSpace innings in India. It is a loss that is hard to reconcile with. I have been listening to WorldSpace satellite radio since as far back as 1999 when I was posted as a UN Peacekeeper in Ethiopia, where it was free to air. Once I returned to India, the paid service was a great source of meaningful and sensible music, 24x7, with very little RJ blah-blah to bear with. It certainly beat local FM radio by a clear margin, in terms of quality of music.

Is there any hope of its revival in India? I wonder if there is a case to start a campaign to urge the new owners of the satellite radio service to consider India as a major base of its listeners and admirers. We must get this back to our country at all cost. Col Bikramdeep Singh

A user campaign could indeed draw attention to the potential here, probably the attention of media companies within India who could be urged to buy out the content rights and assets. I doubt however if the new owners of WorldSpace (who already know that over 95 per cent of their listeners were in India) would review their decision, given that they can’t easily start a ground-based WorldSpace service in India, aimed at in-car use.

You mentioned that Worldspace switched off its service to India on January 1. This statement is wrong. On December 31 morning, when I switched on my WorldSpace receiver, there was nothing on it. It means that Worldspace was off air even on December 31. The bigger misstatement is that ‘Strangely, the Indian user isn’t clamouring for refunds’. I want my Rs 3,000, but there seems no way out, in view of loose laws in our country. Manoj K Mishra

A few WorldSpace channels did carry on till midnight on New Year’s Eve. And for a refund, see worldspace.com: you need to list yourself there. There’s a legal bankruptcy process on in the USA, and chances are that users would get some fraction of their money back – a couple of years down.

The author is chief editor and green evangelist at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles and sites such as LD2.in. pkr@cybermedia.co.in, twitter.com/prasanto.

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