is one in a series of articles about radio’s role and future in the
evolving automobile dashboard. To read other articles, visit http://radioworld.com/dashboard.
is changing. The way listeners consume media (including radio) is
transforming as well. This is not news to anyone who has been
watching the industry for the past five or 10 years, but these
changes are starting to reach into areas we might not have expected.
a number of years, AM radio was king. Listeners turned to the local
AM radio station for news, entertainment and a connection to the
personalities at the station as well as their local community.
FM radio came into the marketplace. Initially there was not much
interest in the technology and receiver adoption was slow. Eventually
FM radio became standard and more music formats shifted to FM as AM
stations slowly shifted to news and talk.
listening to radio continues to be a big part of media consumption,
an increasing number of options have become available, allowing
listeners to create their own individual media environments. Early
options included cassettes, then CDs and MP3s. Technology improved to
the point where listeners could take their content with them
of these technologies required the listener to actively construct a
playlist from their content. Radio, on the other hand, is a
continuous stream of content that the listener does not really have
to work to construct.
changed when subscription services like satellite radio entered the
picture. Suddenly the listener was able to choose from dozens of
program streams with music and talk content tailored to a specific
theme, genre or topic. These program streams were available anywhere
the listener had a satellite radio and a clear view of the sky.
audio streams had been available for quite some time by this point,
but listening to them required that the user be near a computer.
to the present, when smartphones are everywhere. With smartphones
came high-speed wireless data and apps that allow users to have an
unlimited selection of on-demand streaming content at their
fingertips, either customized by the listener or “curated” by
of the first apps simply streamed the audio from individual radio
stations and Internet broadcasters. Other apps such as TuneIn and
iHeartRadio aggregate streams from a number of broadcasters. The
biggest change came with services like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio that
allow users to tailor their own “stations” based on their
personal musical tastes.
car continues to be one of the top locations for content consumption.
It is in this environment that we are seeing the biggest changes and
will likely have new opportunities to engage with listeners.
technologies that were first only available in the home then found
their way into the car. The adoption of media technologies in the car
has closely mirrored the availability of those technologies in other
portable environments. Car radios initially had only AM, then AM/FM,
followed by AM/FM/cassette and AM/FM/cassette/CD. Some of these CD
players even read discs with MP3 files burned on them.
this progression of changes in the car dashboard, manufacturers
started to add a small but key feature: the Auxiliary audio input.
This simple feature gave consumers a universal way to bring their
smartphone audio into the car without resorting to less-than-ideal
methods such as RF modulators, cassette adaptors or burning MP3 files
the most part, the car radio has remained largely unchanged over the
years: two knobs, a few buttons and a small display. Media sources
have been added and some are now starting to go away. Cassette decks
in new cars are all but gone; CD slots are starting to follow.
number of new cars on the market have replaced the traditional user
interface with LCD touchscreens that incorporate everything from the
car’s entertainment system to climate controls and other vehicle
preferences. There may still be dedicated buttons and knobs for some
of these functions, but I suspect there will be fewer of these going
new “infotainment” systems brought additional features, such as
USB ports and Bluetooth. This allowed the smartphone to further
integrate with the car, including features like hands-free calling
and control of the media library on the device. The system can now
display things like title, artist and album art from the device as
well. Very few in-car systems do not have these integration features
as standard now.
only can these new systems connect to smartphones, many of them are
connected to the Internet, either via an onboard cellular modem or
through the smartphone’s data connection. This connection can be
used for everything from delivering content to software updates and
diagnostics. Systems such as GM’s “OnStar” have connected
drivers via cellular links for quite some time, but the capabilities
have continued to become more advanced.
major vehicle manufacturers are moving in this direction. This
connectivity isn’t the future — it’s here.
an Auxiliary input allowed consumers to bring audio from their
favorite apps into the car, but the smartphone itself has still been
the primary user interface for those apps. The newest generation of
infotainment systems allows these apps to be integrated into the
and other apps can now be directly accessed from the infotainment
system. Suddenly the car’s interface has truly become an extension
of the smartphone and the apps on the smartphone. This trend will
continue as the systems become less driven by dedicated hardware and
the rich metadata available from other media sources, broadcasters
need to ensure they are providing the same level of user experience.
Broadcast radio is one of the few remaining sources that do not
provide title, artist and album art by default. Listeners have come
to rely on this data as part of the overall experience.
can provide text data for analog FM broadcast, but HD Radio
ultimately is the path, in my view, to providing the fullest user
experience with features such as album art. HD Radio is now standard
on an increasing number of infotainment systems.
quite some time, there has been a shift from being “broadcasters”
to “content providers” — and the actual delivery platform,
whether it is via broadcast or Internet, radio or smartphone, becomes
so many content options now available, how do broadcasters ensure
they maintain a place in the car? Listeners are going to seek out the
content they want to hear, regardless of where it comes from. It’s
all about the content. Listeners are their own best program director.
broadcasters have strayed from their long-time mission of providing
local and relevant content. This is evident by the FCC’s
initiatives directed at ensuring localism. If a listener can get the
same music or content a station is playing elsewhere, the only reason
the individual would choose radio is content that he or she can’t
get anywhere else — that “connection” that I mentioned at the
beginning of this article. Simply airing 24/7 automated satellite
feeds from syndicators isn’t going to cut it.
it local. Keep it relevant.
Toven is director of engineering at Wyoming Public Media.