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Tech Update: A New Way To Hear Music

There's a new music streamer on the Net and it's planning to take online music where no other Internet service has gone before. Like your car, beach, or wherever you may roam.
 It's called Slacker, and its new "Personal Radio" service does everything you would expect from an Internet radio station, including allowing you to select pre-programmed channels or have a custom transmission built around your personal favorites.  However, the difference between Slacker and current Internet radio offerings is that it will eventually market devices that will break the umbilical cord that currently tethers Net-based music services to computers.

To do that, Slacker has two gizmos in its product pipeline. The Slacker Portable Player will enable users to take their Slacker stations with them, while the Slacker Satellite Car Kit pretty much functions as the name implies, and allows users to receive music beamed from Slacker directly to their autos via satellite.

But don't think of the gadgets as just modified radio receivers. Instead, consider them portable Net music devices. The plan calls for Slacker to "push" tracks whenever those devices detect a WiFi connection or can receive Slacker's satellite feed. Once received, those tracks will be stored on the devices for later listening.  This means you don't have to be connected to a computer, WiFi or satellite to listen to Slacker music. No need to plug in to turn on. The devices will play where ever you may be. It's only to refresh the music that Slacker needs to touch base with the home office.

The basic Slacker service is free and ad-supported, and the company plans to launch a premium, ad-free service sometime during the second quarter that will cost $7.50 per month. Slacker Portable Players should appear sometime this summer, with prices starting at $150. At this time prices have not been set for the car kit, but the device is expected to ship later this year.

While Slacker is new on the scene, the company has already acquired rights from major labels like Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and hundreds of independent imprints. Plus, the people behind the service have already earned plenty of digital music cred.Slacker's co-founder and chief executive is Dennis Mudd, the co-founder and former chief exec MusicMatch, Inc. For many people, their first exposure to managing digital music on their computers was through the MusicMatch jukebox software. In fact, MusicMatch was such a hit that Yahoo acquired the company back in 2004 for $160 million.

Slacker's president is Jim Cady, the former chief exec of Rio, the company that pioneered MP3 players. Other major Slackers include company VP of sales Steve Cotter, who held down the same position at both Rio and Altec Lansing, and former chief exec of portable player maker iRiver America, Jonathan Sasse, is the VP of marketing.

 "Personalized Radio is a great way to listen to the music you love without having to work at it," chief exec Mudd said. "The only problem is that until now, personalized radio has been stuck on the PC. Slacker solves that problem. Now you can just kick back and listen."