Connecting the Dots on the Connected Car

This is from a radio industry website called RadioInk, one of the organizations behind the DASH Conference, a now-annual meeting between broadcasters, developers and auto manufacturers held in Detroit in October. The goal of the conference is to get all these people together to discuss where both industries–broadcasters and automakers–need to go in the era of the connected car.  (I was at last year’s inaugural gathering and it was fantastic.)

The connected car offers both the greatest promise and the greatest threat to traditional radio broadcasters.  Ignore the situation at your peril. RadioInk offers this look.

Perhaps you recall a moment when I leapt from my chair to challenge the panel of automotive experts at our Radio Ink Convergence conference, when they stated that AM/FM radio could potentially disappear from the auto dashboard. That was followed up by a blog with an urgent message indicating that automakers were considering dropping broadcast radio at some point in the future. Reaction to that blog was the strongest I’ve ever received. It made a lot of people angry, I had calls to retract it (which I did, but only correcting the time frame that had been stated), angered a lot of my friends in the broadcasting business, and even got picked up by hundreds of other blogs and press. I knew it was a giant issue when I got a call from a national TV news reporter wanting me to go on camera. I declined.

That blog came out in June of 2013, and since that time so much of what was predicted would happen has already begun. In response, Radio Ink started the DASH conference with Jacobs Media and connected car expert Valerie Shuman in order to address these concerns and keep radio in a dialogue with the auto companies so that radio remains a high priority — and doesn’t disappear.

Radio’s Biggest Issue
I daresay the connected car is radio’s biggest looming issue. Though my blog received a response from the chairman of General Motors stating that GM had no intention of removing AM and FM radio from the cars — qualified with “in the near future,” which was a bit disquieting — the connected car issues have become huge even if AM and FM are still in cars. BMW just announced that one model will be removing AM radio entirely, citing an electrical interference issue. Porsche has done the same with one model.

Radio’s Great Disappearing Act
Whether or not the auto companies are actually declining to install radios is not really the biggest issue. The issue is consumers and how easy it is for them to use AM and FM on a digital dash. As we revealed at last year’s conference, consumers are having trouble even finding AM and FM on many of these new connected cars. A recent blog post from Saga Communications Steve Goldstein states that maybe I was right. After purchasing a new car, he discovered there was no AM or FM — or so he thought. Ultimately he found broadcast radio after scrolling through screens of options. Will consumers go to that much trouble?

At last year’s conference we showed videos of consumers who got into their new connected cars and were instructed to find the radio. Many could not find it, could not figure out how to make it work, or, worse, found other options so much easier these self-proclaimed loyal radio listeners said they had stopped using radio and started using services like Pandora, which they’d never expected they would do. It was discomfiting when they said they wouldn’t buy a car for one of those services, but since it was there, decided to use it and found they liked it better than radio. Ouch.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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