WorldSpace Management Corp., a District-based broadcasting company, said yesterday that it will begin satellite radio service to Africa and the Mediterranean region on Oct. 19, culminating nearly a decade of development.
A variety of news, entertainment and educational broadcasts from South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and other nations in the region, plus international programming from CNN, Bloomberg and other providers, will be transmitted via the company's satellite to the more than 30,000 customers who have purchased specially designed digital radios, the company said.
"For the first time, crystal-clear programming will be heard in areas that until now have been underserved by traditional radio sources," said WorldSpace's chairman and chief executive, Noah Samara.
Some of the satellite radio technology developed by WorldSpace is also being employed by another Washington-based company, XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., which earlier this week launched a $120 million initial public offering to help fund its planned satellite radio service for U.S. motorists, scheduled to begin in mid-2001.
WorldSpace and XM Satellite Radio had been partners in the technology venture until the 1998 U.S. bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, carried out in retaliation for terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The owner of the factory, Salah Idris, was an investor in WorldSpace. Although he denied any connection to the terrorist assaults and won the release of U.S.-based assets that had been temporarily frozen by the U.S. government, some of XM's principals feared the controversy about the attack could delay or endanger regulatory approvals for their project, company officials confirmed.
"We didn't want any impediment," one of the principals said. "We have to move fast."
To head off such complications, WorldSpace sold its interest in XM Satellite Radio in July to XM's parent company, American Mobile Satellite Corp., a Reston-based satellite communications services.
WorldSpace has no direct debt or equity in XM, although some of its principals own 8.3 million shares of American Mobile through a trust arrangement, as part of the compensation for the sale of WorldSpace's stake in XM.
WorldSpace said it also wanted to concentrate on its overseas satellite project, for which it has raised more than $1 billion since 1990. Eventually, three satellites will be deployed, officials said, to broadcast to underdeveloped nations around the world.
The radios used in the service can be equipped to transfer data and multimedia signals to personal computers, a spokesman said, although that feature is not scheduled to begin until next year.
CAPTION: WorldSpace staff and guests watch a tape of a successful launch of one of the firm's satellites. The D.C. company is set to begin radio service to Africa.