Listeners tuned in to a radio station today that broadcasts digital signals to the entire nation from a satellite spinning round the world, in what its developers say is a first.

Unlike regular AM and FM radio broadcasts, which suffer from static, hiss and limited frequency response, the station beams signals directly from space to the ear.The technology and quality are similar to that of compact discs.

"That results in sound quality that is far better than FM radio and equals that on CDs," said Tadanobu Kishi, an official in the Ministry of Posts and Communications.

Because the broadcasts are digital, listeners with digital audio tape recorders can make recordings that are virtually perfect copies of the original master tapes.

But to receive the new digital station, listeners need a small satellite dish and a special tuner that can be attached to a television set to receive TV broadcasts from the same satellite.

Starting in April, its commercial-free broadcasts will be scrambled and lengthened from 12 to 24 hours a day, and consumers will need to buy a $200 decoder and pay a $4.60 monthly fee.