The radio trades have been full of headlines about saving AM radio, especially in the dashboard of America’s cars and trucks. Here’s some of the most recent ones I’ve seen:
NAB launches campaign for AM radio
State Broadcasters Group Ask AM Stations for Help
Can The Industry and Congress Keep AM Radio in the Dashboard?
Detroit Newspaper Looks at Loss of AM Radio in New Ford Vehicles
The National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations (NASBA) even put out an online survey “to more accurately craft the AM broadcaster owner’s message and to develop actionable items to keep AM [radio] in the dash.”
Let me tell you why everything I’ve read in the broadcasting newsletters, magazines and websites seems to be focused 180-degrees in the wrong direction.
What Features Do New Car Buyers Want?
Keeping AM or FM radio in vehicle dashboards has nothing to do with what broadcasters want, it has everything to do with what car buyers want. The lists from various sources I’ve found are all pretty much the same, though ranking positions may vary a little from publication to publication. Here is what car buyers want:
- Proximity Key – a key fob that allows you to unlock (and lock) your vehicle’s doors and start it without having a physical key in your hand
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – smartphone connectivity is as important as a steering wheel to today’s car buyers*
- USB Outlets – lots of places to charge or run tablets, laptops and other electronic equipment
- Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear-Cross-Traffic Alert – to keep you informed of what’s going on around your car while you’re driving
- Adaptive Cruise Control – systems that adjust your car’s speed while maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.
- Surround-View Camera Suite – this puts the backup camera on steroids and allows a driver to see a 360-degree view of everything around their vehicle
- Wireless Smartphone Charging – a place you can put your cellphone to charge while you’re driving
- Rain-Sensing Windshield Wipers – a step-up from intermittent wipers, these blades automatically adjust to the amount of road spray or rainfall coming at you to keep your windshield clean
- Automatic High Beams – No need to raise and lower your headlight power manually, these systems do it automatically for you, so you always have the most light your vehicle is capable of producing shining on the road in front of you
- Heated, Ventilated Seats and a Heated Steering Wheel
What you don’t find on any of these lists are people asking for a radio, let alone an AM radio to be in their next vehicle.
What Features Do New Car Buyers Feel They Can Skip?
It surprised me to find that ‘Navigation’ topped lists, but then when Sue & I rented a car a couple of years ago, I learned that rental cars no longer offer a navigation system option. What they do offer is Apple CarPlay and Android Audio that automatically connects to your smartphone and displays the navigation software you enjoy using to the car’s video screen. (And yes, that arrangement worked for us perfectly, while driving cross-country.)
So, let’s look at the features car buyers don’t mind not having:
- Premium Audio System – most feel the hefty costs to upgrade the standard audio system the car comes with is not worth the money
- Onboard WiFi Hotspot – like Satellite Radio (which most new car buyers are also OK with skipping) WiFi Hotspots require a monthly subscription fee and are deemed not worth the added expense
Your Baby’s Ugly
The real problem the radio industry has is that it lives in a reality distortion field that has it thinking it’s still 1960s/70s. In other words, it needs to put on a pair of headphones and hear it for what it is.
John Frost’s most recent Frost Advisory email, told the story of a small AM radio station that broadcast a financial talk show that he occasionally tunes into hear. John says “it’s terrible radio, but the guys are really smart, they cough a lot, have lots of room noise and give insightful advice.”
On Good Friday, the show was a repeat of Thursday’s show and so what the listener heard on Friday were invitations to call in (which they could not because the show wasn’t live), announcements that Friday’s show would be a repeat of Thursdays show (but this was Friday) and commentary about the current day’s stock market prices (the market was closed on Good Friday) and nothing is more meaningless than yesterday’s stock prices.
Sadly, this kind of thing isn’t an isolated incident, but standard operating procedure on both AM and FM radio stations across America.
No one wants to hear their baby is ugly,
but for today’s radio industry, that’s the truth.
What Should Be The Focus of the Radio Industry
What keeps running through my mind is,
if the radio industry spent as much time, money and effort on producing a great product on AM radio stations across America, might their radio listeners be leading the charge with the auto industry to keep AM radio in the dashboard?
Let’s look at what fans make happen when a favorite TV show gets cancelled. The first television program to be saved by its fans was Star Trek in 1968. The franchise began in 1966 and 57 years later, it is still going strong.
More recently, fans of the FOX series Friday Night Lights organized a Facebook group with online petitions to show the network their support for this show, having it continue for five seasons despite its less than stellar audience ratings.
In both cases, it was not a television network that tried to convince an audience to watch a program, it was the audience that convinced a network NOT to cancel a program. That’s how it’s suppose to work.
AM radio isn’t coming back, so what the radio industry should instead be focused on is making FM radio the best that it can be and insuring that it won’t suffer the same fate befalling AM radio.
To win in today’s media marketplace, you must have a product that listeners want to hear;
today’s audio consumer has an infinite number of choices available.
When it comes to what new car buyers want in their next vehicle, broadcast radio is not on their list of wants, needs or desires.