A few weeks back, one of our main news reporters & I were discussing the steep increase in price of new vehicles & both agreed that one big cost factor is the dashboard “Audio Center” we once called a ‘car radio’. This piece of equipment is adding significant cost when one is faced with acquiring a new vehicle & has forced many to go with the option of leasing as opposed to outright purchase. Evolution in sophistication is making this center- piece increasingly smarter & more functional with each year of new vehicles coming onto the market. No longer are choices simply AM or FM, HD or analog, tape (remember those?) or CD, mp3 or Bluetooth. These devices are introducing surprising new capabilities to provide us with hands-free information & entertainment.
2019 Jeep Cherokee Audio Center
At least two companies will soon provide in-dash centers that will customize the listening experience for each individual driver (or passenger) in that vehicle with a mere log-on in similar fashion to our computers & hand-held devices. With some input from the individual user, such as USB transfer of music files & playlists, podcasts, personal access to services such as Pandora, Spotify or iTunes, the in-dash entertainment center will customize exactly what the user wants to hear, be able to calculate & determine commute time and provide a customized listening experience. Choices from conventional radio, online streaming, downloading & playing a podcast or one’s own collection of inputted files will provide the in-dash center with all the material required to perform this service. Now in development, it will also be possible to transfer this customized service among different vehicles owned & driven within a family so the content & degree of customization will be transferable – for example, between a Ford & a Toyota, a GM product & Hyundai etc. What I haven’t seen so far in new vehicle purchase options, is the ability to opt out of these increasingly expensive entertainment centers, thereby reducing the vehicle purchase cost to prospective owners. Just as it was once an option whether to install a radio or not, new vehicle manufacturer’s need to realize that there are actually a few potential customers unwilling or disinterested in paying for, and owning such a device. The option of installing a third-party option such as a (now simple) CD player with AM/FM radio & HD capability should be offered to buyers.
The experiences of a few friends & colleagues who have bought recent car models also suggest that dealer sales people need to get educated on use of these sophisticated in-dash units with a view to helping customers make the most of these. Having also had the chance to examine the vehicle manuals that are provided to new car buyers, the manufacturers themselves need to do a far better job of providing instructions & ‘how-to’s’ using these complex devices. That includes providing well-written manuals & diagrams from the third-party companies under contract providing these entertainment centers. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford a new vehicle, be prepared for some new experiences when hitting that ON/OFF button on your new dashboard audio center for the first time.
On a related note, broadcasters need to be aware of these new entertainment centers & do a better job of acquainting themselves with these complex devices. How many station GM’s/PD’s/Brand Managers/MD’s have taken the time to learn about the evolution in car audio centers? How many actually know what content appears on the dash screen for their own stations? RadioWorld’s Paul McLane explores that subject in a recent column & comes to the conclusion that stations & broadcast groups need to get seriously ‘with the program’ as radio evolves more & more into a mobile listening experience. The competition for the dashboard icon & provision of online, on-demand, stored files, downloads & other listening options make it more & more imperative that broadcasters have a dedicated & experienced person in-house or on-team that is familiar with, and on top of dashboard content to compliment their station(s). As writer McLane notes, the cheapie large broadcast groups should actually be hiring specialized personnel to monitor & control what appears on user/listeners vehicle screens. Does YOUR station have an RDS feed showing artist/song currently in play, or the subject matter of an on-air talk show?
2019 Toyota Camry Audio Center
Among some of Paul McLane’s better observations:
“Whether or not your station has chosen to broadcast in HD Radio, you and your management really can’t judge how the station is being seen by your listeners without sitting in front of a lot of different dashboards. Engineers and GMs should be visiting local car dealers together and asking to sit in front of various displays. (Make it part of a station sales call at the dealer.)”
“HD Radio stations should consider whether they’re taking full advantage of the features that the platform offers. At least be aware of the various ways that your branding, show and talent names, station URL and logos can be displayed and combined.”
Readers of our recent articles on HD Radio will recall my observations about what a poor job Pacific Northwest broadcasters are doing to promote & make listeners aware of their HD content & access to it. Website content related to local HD programming on individual stations are almost non- existent which seems a poor choice by broadcasters hoping to gain new listeners & stay on top of the competition. Radio can no longer afford to be complacent about HD or how their station appears on the new wave of vehicle entertainment/audio centers. These devices are the subject of more & more news stories in the media & awareness by drivers, station listeners & car buyers is increasing. If radio hopes to stay remotely relevant & competitive, it’s time to hit the road & get a grip on HD Radio & today’s in-dash audio centers.
CBS News “Sunday Morning” just did an in-depth story on new vehicle audio centers: “Tuning in to the evolution of Car Radios”