Radio In Cars....Tuning Out, or Inviting In?
March 15, 2013
Last week, Radio Ink published a story about how 2 major car companies are pulling AM/FM radio from their new car designs within the next to years. The good news is that General Motors & Ford are listening. They responded sayingthey generally do plan to keep AM/FM in their cars.
I was at that Convergence Digital Media Conference in Silicon Valley and there were reps from the auto companies and they DID indeed say that "2 automakers have said they will discontinue AM/FM radio in cars in favor of IP based radio." I heard them say it just like Eric Rhodes did. I do not believe radio is dead, but I think there's some BIG things that we need to be aware of as we develop our strategy for the next 5 years.
Here's a recording of some thoughts on radio from Jim Buczkowski, Ford's head of Electrical & Electronic Systems for Ford.
The automakers at Convergence explained with the current pace of technology it takes 3 years to develop a new car. So from the engineering/design stage until it hits the streets- it takes 3 years. The average car on the road in the US is 11 years old right now. That is an ALL TIME high, so lots of cars will be turning over soon. Ford said with smart phone users, 60% of them say that Ford Sync is a primary reason they are shopping for a Ford over other car makers.
When I heard that "2 companies have cars in production right now without AM/FM radio" I wanted to know more. I actually walked out into the hall to talk to the car representatives in person. Eric Rhodes was also standing there sharing the Arbitron data that said "radio listening has only declined like 6% in ten years." The representative from General Motors did confirm that their consumer research was drastically different that what Arbitron research said.
I asked a few questions to the auto makers about the connected car and they said a couple interesting things:
- They told us that some "non American" car makers don't see the value of regular AM/FM radio on the digital dashboard. We have to remember that cultures outside of America may have different views & uses for radio, apps & IP audio than we do in America. (Look at the technological landscape in Japan for example) From stage, the car makers said "The radio industry need to innovate around IP based audio technology for radio in order to compete in the digital dashboard."
- They said every piece of technology eventually moves from analog to digital. Radio is the only analog thing in the digital dashboard.
- Radio is the only thing without 2 or 3 way communication with the consumer in the digital dashboard. In addition, radio is the only thing that doesn't display graphics/pictures on the dashboard.
- On the digital dashboard, there are not mechanical preset buttons for radio like we have always had. It's just a touch screen. Radio is one of many tabs on the touch screen. When you click the radio tab, you will see touch buttons for your radio presets. You will only see the radio presets when you click the radio tab.
- When a consumer is using the GPS on the digital dashboard, he has to click about 3 buttons in order to change the radios station because the GPS is using the entire screen. (Unless us uses the steering wheel controls to change the radio)
- At this time, none of the car companies allow you to actually load your app directly on your car's dashboard screen. Your car dashboard just connects to your cell phone via blue tooth or a dock. Basically, you are downloading & controlling all your apps from your cell phone. Even Ford Sync App link technology does not allow you to put an app on the dashboard directly at this time. It's just voice control and steering wheel control of from Ford Sync that connect to the app on your phone. It's not loading your app as a preset on your dashboard.
- There are some apps pre-loaded apps on the digital dashboards of the new cars, but at this time, you cannot add or change them. The apps like Pandora/IheartRadio etc are chosen by each individual car manufacturer.
- Posting apps on the dashboard is also an revenue source for the auto makers.
Like I said, I don't believe radio is dead, but there are some huge opportunities for us to step up, innovate and use technology to better serve our listeners!
The future of radio? Some think it's the digital dashboard in the car. Some think it's an app, an FM radio chip in a cell phone or a website where you can skip songs.
As radio personalities, we need more of a holistic approach. The digital dashboard is just one piece of the pie. I don't think radio transmitters are going away anytime soon, but we do need to pay attention to the way tablet & smartphone use has boomed. Tablets & mobile can be additional distribution channels for our show. Digital can enhance what we do on the radio! Let's brainstorm & innovate around that. Let's look for ways to use digital and radio to connect listeners with God and with others. Let's set our own course as a CCM industry rather than simply follow what Clear Channel, Cumulus & CBS are doing with digital. Sure we're going to use their tools when they help enhance our company's vision, but we don't have the same mission they do. Let's build a strategy that's really centered on our love for our listeners.
I want to reach more people with the Gospel & the hope Jesus provides. So I'm consistently looking for more distribution & connection options that will help our radio station reach people where they already are... and look forward to where they are going.
I think Christian radio has a competitive advantage right now. We actually have a mission behind what we are doing. Our mission trumps ad dollars, sales clients and ratings. The heart behind Christian radio is to reflect Jesus and help listeners connect with him. For most mainstream companies, generating a profit is the sole reason the radio station exists. With that said, our format really is about creating genuine content, personally connecting with listeners and building/facilitating community.
Christian radio is naturally more listener focused than any other format because of the mission behind it. Let's think about how to use technology to make that relationship even deeper.