Stock Formula: FM+Package=Price

Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Who would ever have thought that you could tune your computer into an FM music station and make money?

For the serious investor in stocks, commodities and options, FM radio is becoming the fastest and most economical method of obtaining up-to-the-minute quotations from the major exchanges and markets.

A portion of the FM band width assigned to each radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission sits idle because it is not needed to transmit normal broadcasts, even in stereo.

One of the first uses made of that surplus capacity was the broadcast of background music sold for playing in elevators and offices. Now, several companies use those radio waves to transmit coded stock market, commodities and options reports directly to clients’ computers.

Dataspeed of San Mateo, Calif., recently purchased by Lotus Development and renamed Lotus Information Network Corp. (LINC), offers its Modio FM receiver and software package for use on IBM Personal Computers and compatibles.


Bonneville Telecommunications of Salt Lake City has recently announced a similar product for users of Apple’s Macintosh.

The Modio, priced at $549.95, is a small box that could easily be mistaken for a modem. It comes with LINC’s MarketWatch software. You connect the Modio to your computer just as if it were a modem, load in MarketWatch, enter the appropriate password to verify that you have paid the monthly service charge to receive the data and turn it on.

A stream of securities trade quotations instantly begins flowing to your computer, with real-time transaction reports available for about 20,000 stocks, commodities and options traded on the exchanges in New York and Chicago.

The effective transmission speed via radio waves is typically 16 times faster than the rate you could achieve over a telephone line with a 1,200-baud modem, according to Douglas Smith, LINC’s vice president of engineering and manufacturing.

18 Companies Displayed at One Time

The software limits the number of companies that you can track to 250, the names of which you must enter into the computer. Actually, only 18 companies can be displayed at one time, but the latest transactions for the others are stored in the Modio’s 64 kilobytes of random access memory as they are received. Thus, no matter when you look at a particular company, you’ll see the latest trade.

Generally, the lag between the time that the actual transaction is reported on the exchange floor and the time that it appears on your screen will be no more than 2 1/2 minutes, which is how long it takes LINC to cycle through its repertoire of companies.

The monthly fee varies, depending on whether you are an individual investor or a professional handling accounts for clients and on how many exchanges you monitor.

Individual investors pay from $57.50 (New York Stock Exchange only) to $312.75 to get information from the three major stock exchanges, the three commodities boards and the options board. The fee is split between LINC and the exchanges. For example, of the maximum $312.75 fee, $110 goes to LINC for its database and $202.75 goes to the exchanges and boards for providing undelayed trading information.

Stockbrokers and other professionals pay higher prices--totaling from $92.60 to $410.85.

Data received over the Modio can be stored in files on your PC and later entered into a spreadsheet for long-term tracking and charting. There is not yet the possibility of a direct link between the LINC software and Lotus’ 1-2-3 or Symphony spreadsheets. But it’s a safe bet that one is under development.

11 Major Cities

The LINC signal, which is transmitted by satellite, is available in 11 major U.S. cities and elsewhere if the customer has the proper type of antenna dish (cost: $3,275 to $3,975, depending on size, plus installation and monthly use fees).

For Macintosh owners, Bonneville Telecommunications software initially will offer only commodities trading data, but it will expand into stock quotations by early autumn.

The technology is the same as that used by LINC (both companies even use the same satellite), but the FM receiver and the computer software are different. Use of the Bonneville unit, which is the size of a large stereo receiver, is covered by the monthly service fee. The company programs the receiver to accept only data from those exchanges for which the user has paid.

The Macintosh software is more sophisticated than that offered by LINC and takes advantage of the Mac’s mouse, windows and graphics. It is possible to track as many as 544 companies and to view some of the data instantly, transmitted as line, bar or point charts. You can also receive and store up to 50 pages of market news reports.

The company’s first software product--MacMonitor, which tracks commodities--costs $225. Then comes a basic installation fee of $300, for which Bonneville installs its FM receiver and antenna on your premises.

Then, you pay Bonneville between $145 and $175 a month, depending on the form of payment and on whether you sign up for a six-month or one-year contract.

Exchange Fees

In addition, you pay up to $249.50 a month in exchange fees, an amount that buys you membership in all of the Chicago and New York commodities markets as well as the London markets. You can, of course, choose to follow fewer markets and pay less.

Bonneville also offers a $2,500 satellite antenna dish for users who live beyond the reach of FM radio stations.

Interested investors may contact LINC at 1900 S. Norfolk St., Suite 150, San Mateo, Calif. 94403. Phone is 800-SMARKET. Bonneville Telecommunications is at 19 West South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1503, or call 801-532-3400 to locate the nearest office.

Now, if making money off the stock and commodities markets is just a matter of having timely information, we should all be on our way to becoming millionaires, right?

The Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O’Reilly, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.