Cars and radio are like “peanut butter & jelly” industries – it’s hard to imagine one without the other. And that’s the way it’s been in America for the better part of a century.
Since the days of Henry Ford, car companies have dutifully installed a radio in the dashboard. First came AM radio. FM became standard equipment in the 70s. And while automakers added 8-track players, then cassette decks, and ultimately CD and DVD players, AM/FM radio with the preset pushbuttons became the norm.
For the radio broadcasting industry, it solved myriad distribution problems. Sure, there were radios at home, at work, and radios you can wear on your belt or put in a purse or pocket. But the standard radio in the center of the dash became a conduit to achieving mass scale – listening, advertising, and donations.
But in the 2000s, the world began to change. The Internet found its footing, smartphones became ubiquitous, along with Bluetooth connectivity. The result is that more and more drivers could connect smartphones to their cars, enabling them to access apps containing information, entertainment, inspiration, maps, and pretty much anything else beyond broadcast signals in their market.
Along with the development of satellite radio – first XM, then Sirius, and later a marriage between the two -in-car options expanded exponentially.
At that point, the automakers tried their hand at dashboard “infotainment systems,” pioneered by Ford’s SYNC system, a touchscreen with factory installed apps. Every manufacturer – or OEMs as they’re called – jumped into the fray. Soon, there were 30+ dashboard systems, similar in the basics, but different enough to confound most drivers, even those with a solid tech acumen.
Enter the two biggest tech companies in the world – Apple and Google – the pair that owned the two biggest smartphone operating systems, iOS and Android respectively. At nearly the exact same time, each developed its own in-car ecosystem, seamlessly connecting their popular phones to the car makers’ touch screens. By mirroring smartphone apps in the car, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto rapidly became the go-to systems for drivers and passengers, leapfrogging the systems built by the OEMs.
Today, access to all this content is rapidly moving from buttons in the dash to voice commands, thanks in no small part to human sounding concierges named Alexa, Siri, and Hey, Google. Drivers are learning how to access what they want and when they want it by simply chatting the correct phrase. These voice systems are growing smarter and more intuitive with each passing year, using Artificial Intelligence to “remember” where we go, where we stop or coffee or gas, and where we go out to eat.
But that’s not where it ends. The proliferation of 5G connectivity is a gateway to creating connected cities and autonomous vehicles. Along with electrification, these innovations are just over the horizon, threatening to disrupt the ways in which Americans move from Point A to Point B, and how they use audio (and soon video) to accompany their mobile journeys.
With all these options and choices, broadcast radio is still the #1 most accessed audio source in the car. While it is nowhere near as dominant in vehicles as it was during most of the 20th century, radio continues to be the most popular source of music, talks, sports, and faith when people are traveling on four wheels. But unlike other audio providers like Sirius XM and Spotify, the radio industry’s relationship with the OEM’s is not particularly strong, creating exposure for radio.
Even during the darkest days of the pandemic when few were driving anywhere, the car remained broadcast radio’s dominant listening location. As normalcy as returned – albeit in fits and starts – Americans find themselves back in their cars – for many, a safe, protected haven.
But the challenges posed by a torrent of new content, made easily accessible in many different forms and formats, creates something of an existential challenge to broadcasters. Aside from the simplicity of tuning in an AM or FM radio station in most cars – an elegant, seamless “one-button solution” – what is it about the medium that compels drivers to remain loyal to their old favorites?
For radio broadcasters, that is the question. What can a radio station provide in a vehicle that consumers simply cannot get from these myriad other choices? It’s important broadcasters can answer that question, and communicate it to its automotive partners, and that’s what we will be addressing during the CMB Gold Member Gathering. We are bringing together experts from all areas of the automotive spectrum – an OEM who was in charge of the development of Ford’s SYNC system, the Chief Evangelist of Amazon’s Alexa Auto, a visionary helping Los Angeles design the future of mobility, the former Chief Economist and futurist of the Consumer Technology Association, and companies who are helping design and develop the best ways for radio stations to be displayed in the dashboard.
Along with that, you’ll be able to explore the city of Detroit, and you’ll instantly see the huge footprint the auto industry has on our area. You’ll get a sense of history, while also seeing how the cars of the future are being built. And hopefully you’ll have a lot of fun as well with your colleagues and some of the events CMB has planned. It will be an immersive experience you can only get in Detroit.
Welcome to our city. We look forward to seeing you soon.
President, Jacobs Media
VP/General Manager, Jacobs Media