Moss on: Whither the Car ‘Radio’

There was a time, for us old-timers, when simply having a radio in a car was a bonus. Even better if it actually worked. Then came AM/FM car radios and then the possibility of a cassette player built in to the radio. Back then technology moved at a seemingly generational pace.

If you are one of those old-timers, you might be surprised to learn that today car “radios,” and I use the term very loosely, now sport USB inputs and some even have SD card slots, along with CD drives. Are touchscreen controls far behind?

Doh! I’m informed there are even touchscreen models available. Call me Rip van...

What does all this mean for radio broadcasters?

One thing that it means is that the “radio” part of the car radio is increasingly minimalized. Looking at the Web sites for major car radio manufacturers or checking the consumer product reviews at major retailers, one can’t help but notice everyone is trying to plug in their iPod or get their smartphone to work with a Bluetooth link or listen to music files on a USB drive or SD card. Pretty much everything but listen to the “radio” part of the car radio.

And even when they do mention “radio” it is increasingly Internet radio — very often courtesy those busy beavers at RadioTime (who are making their “system” available to any and all).

Take for instance a company by the name of Dension. This company has a USB thumb drive that interfaces with the car radio (via the USB input) and a 3G smartphone to relay Internet radio, courtesy of the aforementioned RadioTime. The car radio’s display allows for navigation. It’s called Webradio.

A few manufacturers have cut that middleman out and have simply installed Bluetooth into their receivers for a direct connection to the phone.

Right now, some broadcast-loving codger is penning an e-mail to me that begins something like, “Aha! But what will those young whippersnappers do when their precious smartphone can’t receive a signal!?! They’ll come crawling back to broadcast radio with their digital tails between their legs!”

Sadly, probably not. The smartphone may have music stored onboard; the iPod’s probably handy and if those are lacking there comes the possibility of the USB drive or SD card offering music specifically chosen by the operator. For many people, turning on the radio is a choice of everything BUT using the actual radio section. For such people, scanning stations for a good song is not an option. They want their music and they will bring it with them.

Brett Moss is gear and technology editor of Radio World.

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