The former top executives at MusicMatch, Rio, and iRiver America tomorrow (March 14) will formally launch Slacker Inc., a new San Diego-based startup company focusing on portable digital radio.

Dennis Mudd, former CEO of digital jukebox software company MusicMatch, is chief executive of the new venture, which up to now has been quietly operating under the name Broadband Instruments. Jim Cady, the onetime head of MP3 player manufacturer Rio Digital Audio, is president, and Jonathan Sasse, the ex-CEO of MP3 maker iRiver America, is VP of marketing.

In conjunction with the launch, the company tomorrow is bowing an Internet radio service at slacker.com that allows for the creation of personalized stations.

Later this year, the company will introduce a line of WiFi-enabled handheld portable players that can wirelessly access and sync Slacker radio programming via home networks, PCs, and public hot spots.

Using new interactive radio licensing agreements with the major labels, many hours of portable radio playlists are stored for a limited amount of time in the cache (or temporary memory) of the device. Playlists are refreshed when a user syncs the device.

Around the same as the device rollout, Slacker will also launch a line of car kits that update Slacker devices via satellite connection rather than Internet connection. Slacker is teaming with a third party satellite company for satellite connectivity.

Pricing on the handheld devices, which also double as a traditional MP3 player and are due in the second half of 2007, are expected to range from $149-$299 depending on storage capacity. There is no word yet on pricing for the car kits.

The basic portable radio service featuring over 100 programmed genre stations and 10,000 artist stations is free of charge and supported by advertising. The only cost is the device. Users can personalize stations to play more popular vs. more eclectic music, newer vs. older music, as well as by genre, and favorite artists/tracks.

Slacker will also offer an ad-free $7.50 per month subscription tier that will allow users to skip tracks on an unlimited basis (as opposed to six songs per-station, per-hour in the basic plan) and on-demand access to songs designated as favorites (in the basic tier favorites are surfaced with greater frequency in playlists but can't be directly accessed).

In addition the company later this year plans to launch a la carte downloads and a more traditional on-demand subscription service that will allow users to pre-select individual songs they want on their device, as opposed to having to discover and flag songs as favorites in the course of radio playback.

Driving the company's focus on portable Internet radio is its belief that a large number of consumers are interested in digital music programming but don't have time to manage a music collection. Slacker cites stats from BBI Market Research that more than half (51%) of all users of MP3 players say they update their device once a month or less. Meanwhile, more than 52 million listeners tune into Internet radio each month, according to Arbitron/Edison Media Research.

Mudd says that while the company will launch with its own hardware solutions, long term Slacker is looking to partner with third party MP3 device makers, wireless carriers and cell phone handset manufacturers to include its technology and programming in their products.