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Walking CES, With a Mind on Radio

Dave Wilson muses on technology and radio’s future

Radio World asked Dave Wilson, who is both a radio station owner and employee of the Consumer Electronics Association, for impressions of the organization’s winter CES show.

This concept car from Alcatel Lucent connects to the world through an embedded 4G LTE wireless link. It has featured touchscreens with buttons for functions like e-mail and Internet media — but no AM/FM. The 2011 International CES in Las Vegas provided a glimpse of what the world might be like without free local radio. Such a world isn’t right around the corner and may never arrive; but we’re rapidly reaching the point where technology could make it possible.

In the beginning, radio was the only electronic source of information and entertainment available to people. Radio used to have a monopoly in the home and in the car. As competing content conduits appeared in the form of TV channels, fewer people listened to the radio at home. As cable television expanded and TV channels multiplied consumers spent even less time listening to the radio at home. But radio still owned the car.

Then satellite radio appeared in cars, and morning drive-time AM/FM listening began to decline, according to Arbitron’s “Radio Today” studies, which show 28 percent of Persons 12+ listening to radio during the 7 a.m. hour in 1998, dropping to 18 percent in 2009 and 17 percent in 2010. According to Arbitron’s 2009 “National In-Car Study,” 12 percent of people subscribe to satellite radio.

Is it a coincidence that AM/FM listening declined by 11 percent from 1998 to 2010, while satellite radio listening went from zero percent to 12 percent in the same period? I think not. And now that Internet radio connectivity is available in cars, I think that will further chip away at AM/FM listening.

For now, free local radio still attracts a large audience, and we all hope it will continue to do so indefinitely. But the days when free local radio was helped by consumers having no other choice for real-time content in the car are long gone; and we must pay close attention to the innovations that competitors are rolling out.


LaCrosse Technology showed a clock/weather station that uses Internet data to show the weather forecast. As one would expect, there were quite a few car radio receivers with Internet radio capability on display at CES. Most allowed a car stereo to control Pandora Internet radio streams when the car stereo was connected to a smartphone capable of receiving Pandora.

But for free local radio broadcasters, the canary in the coal mine may have been Alcatel Lucent’s concept car. Alcatel Lucent makes telecommunications infrastructure equipment, and for it to grow this business it needs mobile phone network capacity to expand.

More consumers using more wireless data is good for Alcatel Lucent and other telecommunications equipment makers. The concept car featured four touchscreens, one for the driver and one for each passenger. Each screen was about the size of an iPad and featured large, easy-to-navigate buttons for e-mail, phone, Web browser, car diagnostics, Internet radio, Internet video, locally stored audio, locally stored video and navigation, but no AM/FM radio. The car’s connection to the outside world was through an embedded 4G LTE wireless link.

This car was just a concept, not an actual product for sale, but it illustrated how continuous innovation by wireless telecommunications providers is making the services provided over their spectrum more and more attractive to consumers. Spectrum, like real estate, is a resource to be developed. Those who develop their spectrum to best serve the needs of people will enjoy the most success.

Devices you can use

Traditionally one of the keys to radio’s success has been its ability to provide timely weather information when we wake up, and relevant traffic information as we drive to work. For some time now, radio has faced new competition on these fronts; some of the latest forms of this competition were on display at the International CES.

The iRecord Pro Personal Media Recorder from Streaming Networks is a simple product that anyone can use to put audio or video onto a portable device without a computer. LaCrosse Technology showed off its Four-Day Internet-Powered Wireless Forecaster, a clock/weather station that not only provides the current time and temperature but also shows the forecasted weather for the next four days. The weather service is provided free, with no subscription required.

To provide the forecast, the LaCrosse system includes a component that connects to the user’s Internet router, fetches forecast data from the Internet and transmits it to the Wireless Forecaster over a proprietary wireless link, not Wi-Fi. Of course smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices like the Sony Dash, which was also on display, can provide weather forecasts, too.

The LaCrosse Wireless Weather Forecast is just another tool that makes it easy for consumers to get up-to-date weather information in the morning without listening to the radio.

Navigation systems have been around for quite awhile, helping consumers get traffic information without using radio. Navteq was demonstrating its LocationPoint advertising service, which allows advertisers to connect with consumers as they approach potential points of purchase.

Navteq’s pitch to CE equipment makers is, “Navteq LocationPoint takes care of ad sales, campaign management, billing and reporting. Just plug the LocationPoint advertising service into your application and start earning money.” The company offers to work with CE device makers so they can prosper jointly from the sale of location-based ads. This is in sharp contrast to free local radio, which seeks a government mandate to force CE makers to include FM chips in their products.

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Verizon displayed a digital jukebox from TouchTunes Interactive Networks that has 3,000 songs stored plus access to millions more through Verizon’s 4G LTE mobile broadband network.
Navteq says it has about 500 advertising clients right now, mainly through agencies. It may try to go to an auction-based keyword model in the future. Navteq ads are targeted at consumers based not only on location, but user demographics and context, too.

In addition to observing some of the competition facing radio at CES I also spotted a few products that broadcasters might find useful in their day-to-day jobs.

Recorders, jukebox systems

Streaming Networks was showing off its iRecord Pro Personal Media Recorder, which takes analog audio and video as inputs and outputs them to an iPod, iPhone, iPad, MP3 player or USB device as a digital MPEG-4 file. It’s a simple product that anyone can use to put audio or video onto a portable device without a computer.

Verizon displayed a digital jukebox from TouchTunes Interactive Networks. It has 3,000 songs stored on it and access to millions more through Verizon’s 4G LTE mobile broadband network.

The device is smart enough to recognize the music that is most frequently requested at a particular location, and it will store the most in-demand content locally to minimize the need for downloads. Customers pay to select a song, just like with a traditional jukebox.

But unlike with traditional jukeboxes, the TouchTunes system lets a customer pay again to bump a previously selected song to the top of the list. Customers can also pay to keep disliked songs from playing. All of this can be done at the device, or over the Internet, and songs can even be requested in advance. The jukebox sells for $7,000.

According to Verizon, high-performing jukeboxes are bringing in $600–$800 a month. The jukebox owner sets the price per play, and the average price they’re currently charging is 51 cents. When the jukebox is not being used by customers, its screen can be used for display advertising, which is perfect for ad campaigns for taxis, beer, concerts and other things.

Rotor Concept Inc. demonstrated a remotely controlled helicopter with a 720×480 video camera that records 30 frames per second. The helicopter can be controlled within a one-mile radius and at elevations up to 2,000 feet, and it can fly for 15 minutes. It retails for $500. Imagine the tower inspection possibilities.

Are you hard on your equipment? JCB was showing off its Toughphone, a water- and dust-resistant cell phone that can be dropped from over six feet without breaking. It’s designed to withstand one ton of pressure and comes in a version that will float if it’s dropped into water. And yes, it includes an FM radio. Prices range from $70 to $350.

JCB says its Toughphones are more rugged than your average mobile phone.
CES was awesome this year. Hope to see you there next year.

Dave Wilson is owner of WHDX(FM) and WHDZ(FM) on Hatteras Island, N.C., and senior director, technology & standards at the Consumer Electronics Association. He’s also a contributor to Radio World. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of RW or CEA or its member companies.

Radio World welcomes other points of view to [email protected].