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Podcasts, Internet radio come to Sprint phones

Sprint handsets can double as music players under a new subscription service that RealNetworks and the mobile company plan to debut.

Sprint cell phones can now double as digital music players for select podcasts or radio programs, thanks to a deal expected Monday between RealNetworks and the mobile company.

The two companies plan to introduce Rhapsody Radio, an offshoot of RealNetworks' online music subscription service for Sprint phones. For $6.95 a month, people nationwide with a Sprint phone (specifically, with Sprint PCS Vision Multimedia Service) can sign up and listen to several different radio stations or Internet podcasts, as well as gain access to videos, music news or freestyle rap service "Beats N Breaks."

Terms of the deal were not announced.

The move is designed to help both companies reach a younger audience of music aficionados.

"A mobile device for the youth generation is like instant messaging and the PC for Gen X and Gen Y," said Kevin Nakao, RealNetworks' general manager of mobile.

Analysts called this the largest North American deal for subscription music. Sprint is the No. 3 wireless carrier in North America, with between 40 million and 50 million users.

"Sprint's always been at the cutting edge of new services--they were the first to sign up Yahoo and AOL, and they're working with ESPN on new services that haven't been announced," said Richard Doherty, research director at Envisioneering Group. "For RealNetworks, it's a toehold with one of the three big cell phone providers."

Rhapsody Radio features five radio stations: alternative, country, popular hits, urban and 70s music. Podcasts include "Morning Becomes Eclectic," a music show from National Public Radio, and the "Le Show" with satirist Harry Shearer. Beats N Breaks lets subscribers "freestyle" rap to instrumental tracks.