Tag Archives: DAB

The Car Radio is 100

Commercial radio was born in November of 1920. The first OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) car radio came along in 1922 designed by the Chevrolet Motor Company and manufactured by Westinghouse. This first car radio was heavy, cumbersome and expensive; costing $200. In today’s dollars this would be the equivalent of $3,347.00. A 1922 Chevrolet, Superior 5-Touring automobile was priced at only $860, so you can see how expensive it was to buy one with a radio installed.

The good news is the radio worked and would then birth 100-years of innovation in the automobile dashboard.

The 1920s Car Radio Sales Pitch

With a radio in your car, your family could drive anywhere within a hundred miles of a radio station while being entertained, informed and educated.

It’s hard for any Baby Boomer to imagine not having audio entertainment as standard equipment in their dashboard.

1930s

It was radio engineer Paul Galvin that would pioneer more affordable car radios which he manufactured and sold through his new company, called Motorola.

1940s

Midway through the 40s, it is estimated that nine million cars now had radios in their dashboard and people were becoming concerned that they were leading to distracted driving thereby causing more auto accidents. Both broadcasters and radio manufacturers made the case for how having a car radio was useful in emergencies and alerted drivers to bad weather conditions.

Today when the topic of distracted driving comes up, it’s usually about handheld cellphones being used by drivers. But back then, Radio-Craft Magazine told of the battle being waged between state legislatures and radio manufacturers: “Ever since auto-radio installations became popular, a controversy has been going on…as to whether auto radio presented an accident hazard or not.”

The president of the Radio Manufacturers Association made the case that car radios were safe saying:

“Radio is not distracting because it demands no attention from the driver and requires no answer, as does conversation between the driver and passengers. Motor car radio is tuned by ear without the driver taking his eyes off the road. It is less disconcerting than the rear view mirror.”

Several states proposed steep fines for drivers, while others considered making installing a car radio a crime.

The Princeton Radio Research Project was created to study the effects car radios were having on automobile safety. In a paper published by Edward A. Suchman for that project, he reported that his small study found no link between car radios and traffic accidents.

1960s

In 1963, Frequency Modulation (FM) radios were introduced into the automobile for the first time. Radio penetration in cars had now reached 60%.

Along with FM radios, the 60s also gave birth to both eight-track tapes and car stereos, primarily due to the use of transistors, instead of vacuum tubes. Solid state transistors were smaller, drew less power and emitted very little heat.

1970s

If the 60s belonged to the 8-track tape player, the 70s would belong to the stereo cassette tape player. Recording tape manufacturer Maxell promoted these cassettes as nearly indestructible.

1980s

While the Compact Disc (CD) would be introduced in the 80s, it didn’t really become ubiquitous until the late 90s, coexisting with compact cassette players in automobile dashboards for two more decades.

21st Century

Probably the biggest disruption to the automobile dashboard came with the advent of Bluetooth allowing smartphones to interface with a vehicle’s entertainment system.

In 2011, automobile manufacturers stopped offering cassette tape players in their new cars, soon followed by the elimination of CD players/changers.

Today’s new cars come equipped with access to Satellite Radio, and an automatic interface with your smartphone allowing you the ability to stream anything you want to hear into your car’s entertainment system.

In fact, my first article for this blog in 2022 was “Why I Stream ALL My Radio Listening,” which diagrammed how my car radio audio systems are now programmed by my iPhone.

“Radio is not going to be Numero Uno in the dash any longer.”

-Fred Jacobs

AM/FM radio will most likely coexist with other forms of audio access for a period of time, but the writing is on the wall.

The definitive answer to how long over-the-air radio will continue to be used in the automobile really depends on broadcasters and whether or not they offer compelling and attention-getting content that audio consumers demand to hear.

AutoStage

Xperi’s newest in-dash experience is AutoStage. It was demonstrated at CES2022 and it should be noted that this system comes with the following pre-sets: SiriusXM, FM, AM and TuneIn Radio.

I use the TuneIn Radio App for most of my radio listening, but why was it chosen by Mercedes Benz? Turns out the answer is, “TuneIn’s radio stations can be accessed worldwide in 197 countries on more than 200 different platforms and devices.” TuneIn says it “provides the displaced radio listener a connection to home with local, national, and international stations anywhere they go and on any device.”

In other words, why would any audio consumer need DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), DAB+, Digital Radio Mondiale, HD Radio, AM or FM when they can receive any radio station in crystal clear audio via streaming?

With the exception of the proprietary content offered by SiriusXM, everything else is available via streaming at no charge.

Waxing Nostalgic

Car radio has come a long way from the day William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois to watch the sunset and their dates told them how much better this romantic evening would have been had they been able to listen to music in the car.

Lear and Wavering shared their girlfriends’ comments with Paul Galvin who would go on to make Motorola car transistor radios, and then AM/FM radio would dominate the dashboard for the rest of the 20th Century.

So, now moving further into the 21st Century, radio broadcasters really need to follow the advice of Steve Jobs in order to survive and thrive, and that is to:

Think Different

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Why I Stream ALL My Radio Listening

Twelve year ago, radio broadcast engineer Tom Ray, penned these words: “Unless we give Joe Consumer a reason to go out and purchase an HD Radio for his car – until he can obtain it easily and at a reasonable cost, and a device that works – I fear HD Radio is going to go the way of FM quad and AM stereo, relegated to the scrap pile of history.”

Tom Ray wrote his article for Radio World when he was the vice president/corporate director of engineering for Buckley Broadcasting/WOR Radio in New York City. He was a strong and vocal supporter of HD Radio and his WOR was one of the first AMs on the air with an HD Radio signal. So, any broadcaster that read Tom’s article, “HD Radio Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” should have taken it as a wake-up call about steps the radio industry needed to take to stay relevant in their listeners’ lives.

Buying a New Car in 2010

Tom is a loyal Ford customer, so when his Explorer went to the automobile graveyard with 230,000-miles on it, Tom wanted to get a new Ford Escape, equipped with HD Radio. The only problem was, Ford wasn’t putting HD Radios into their Escapes, instead, they were pushing Satellite Radio. (Tom noted that his wife listened only to Satellite Radio in her car, saying “in her opinion there is nothing worth listening to in New York’s Hudson Valley, 50 miles north of New York City.)

This should have been yet another radio industry wake-up call about its future.

I encourage you to click on the link and read what Tom Ray wrote a dozen years ago about how difficult it was to put an HD Radio into a new car which, at that time, didn’t offer OEM HD Radios and how he, as a broadcast engineer, was totally frustrated trying to install an aftermarket one.

Streaming Radio at Home

Since Christmas 2017, when my wife gave me my first Amazon Echo smart speaker, our Echo family has quickly grown to four of these devices. There is nowhere you can be in our home and not ask Alexa for something.

Since 2017, all of our in-home radio listening is via streaming.

While we also occasionally streamed radio in the car, on all of our road trips from 2018-2021, SiriusXM always seemed to be offering a 3-month free listening trial that I can honestly say we enjoyed the listening to. But, I’ve never been a subscriber, because other than road trips I spend very little time in the car.

Streaming Radio in the Car

In October, while enjoying my latest free 3-month trial for SiriusXM radio, I decided it was time to bring my in-house streaming radio habit into both of our cars. We own a 2006 Subaru Forester and a 2009 Honda Accord.

The Subaru doesn’t have an AUX input, the Honda does.

Streaming in the Subaru was accomplished with a Blue Tooth receiver that will broadcast on any FM frequency (88.1 works best). In the Honda, this same device’s output was plugged into an AUX receptacle.

The result is, as soon as either my wife or myself enters one of our cars, the Nulaxy KM18 immediately pairs with our iPhones. I installed the AINOPE Car Phone Holder Mount to hold our phones, and keep them easily assessible to control whatever we would like to listen to.

Total cost for each car: $33.43. Time to install, virtually nil. I just plugged the Nulaxy KM18 into a power port and it was operational. The AINIOPE holder easily clamps to an air vent on the dashboard and holds any smartphone.

Unlike the nightmare that Tom Ray experienced back in 2010 trying to put HD Radio into his car, this installation by me, a non-engineer, was a piece of cake.

A Call to Action

I recently sat in on a Radio World webinar called “A Call to Action, radio’s existential battle for the dash.” Paul McLane, Managing Director of Content/Editor in Chief of Radio World at Radio World/Future U.S., hosted the webinar and did an excellent job. However, one particular piece of information shared during the presentation that I thought was crucial was, how Mercedes Benz was equipping their vehicles’ radio screens with the following pre-sets: SiriusXM, FM, AM and TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio is the App I use for most of my radio listening, but why was it chosen by Mercedes Benz? Turns out the answer is, “TuneIn’s radio stations can be accessed worldwide in 197 countries on more than 200 different platforms and devices.” TuneIn says it “provides the displaced radio listener a connection to home with local, national, and international stations anywhere they go and on any device.”

In other words, why would any audio consumer need DAB, DAB+, Digital Radio Mondiale, HD Radio, AM or FM when they can receive any radio station in crystal clear audio via streaming?

With the exception of the proprietary content offered by SiriusXM, everything else is available via streaming at no charge.

Cellular Plan

Now it goes without saying, that streaming consumes data. Each cellphone service provider offers different plans and different price rates. My wife and I are on Verizon’s unlimited phone/text/data plan. We have no landline phone in our home and our iPhones are our lifeline to being connected with each other, our family, our community and the world.

I’ve found streaming radio in our cars provides us with audio quality that is pristine. There’s no buffering or dropout, and it’s been a more reliable signal than AM, FM or SiriusXM radio, especially when traveling through tunnels.

Streaming Apps

I thought you might be interested in knowing what streaming Apps I have on my iPhone, here’s the current list:

  • TuneIn Pro
  • Audacy
  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • NPR ONE
  • YouTube
  • Simple Radio
  • StreamS
  • Apple Podcasts
  • AccuRadio
  • 650AM WSM
  • Stitcher

Why I Prefer Streaming My Radio

We live far enough away from Washington, D.C. that radio signals for WTOP or WETA experience lots of noise and dropout, depending atmospherics, sometimes making them totally unlistenable. However, their streams are always crystal clear.

This fall Sue and I escaped to Cape Cod for a week and when I get on the peninsula, I love turning on WFCC – Cape Cod’s Classical station – 107.5 FM. Now with streaming radio, I can dial up WFCC on my TuneIn radio App and listen when we’re back home in Virginia.

Full disclosure, I am the midday DJ on WMEX-FM in Rochester, NH. But even if I weren’t on the station, WMEX-FM would be my #1 pre-set for streaming. Gary James, the station’s morning man and program director, puts together a music mix that I find absolutely fabulous. It’s the music of my life.

Which brings me to another important point, radio today is global. No longer is your radio station competing just with other local stations, but radio that is streaming from anywhere on planet Earth.

Streaming also makes it possible for ON DEMAND spoken word radio, also known as Podcasts, to be easily available in the car.

Simington on Streaming

FCC commissioner Nathan Simington recently addressed Ohio broadcasters saying, “content delivery power had shifted away from broadcasters – stations and networks – and toward ‘online platforms,’ something he thinks the FCC needs to recognize in its quadrennial review of media ownership regs.”

He warned that:

  1. “Online media platforms are growing rapidly and threaten dominance over traditional media platforms; and
  2. Broadcast advertising revenue has flatlined, having been siphoned off from higher margin online platforms.”

The Future is Streaming

88% of the world’s population now uses mobile broadband as its main source of internet access, and nearly 90% of homes in the United States now have internet streaming. 2021 saw an estimated 22% ad industry growth rate, which Magna Global said was “the highest growth rate ever recorded” by this agency, beating a 12.5% growth rate recorded in the year 2000. The caveat however is, digital dominated traditional advertising raking in 64.4% of the growth in ad spending.

RAIN reports “The U.S. recorded music industry will exceed a 48-year revenue record set in 1999 (based on current estimates),” all coming from revenues paid by streaming music services.

The Harvard Business Review recently published “4 Principles to Guide Your Digital Transformation,” by Greg Satell, Andrea Kates and Todd McLees. In it, the authors wrote, “digital transformation is not just about technology. We’re desperately in need of a shift in focus. Leaders must inspire and empower their entire organization to boldly reimagine their work environment, customer needs, product offering, and even the purpose of the enterprise.”

Tom Ray was the proverbial “canary in the coal shaft” back in 2010, with few paying attention. Sadly, based on the early news coming out of the 2022 CES in Las Vegas, nothing has changed.

We’re living in a communications revolution,

bringing about changes that will be both

permanent and irreversible.

Revolutions never maintain or preserve the status quo.

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The Voice Interface

Siri Voice InterfaceThis week I sat in on the Fred Jacobs webinar “Mobile Strategy for Radio: What we learned from Techsurvey 2019” and the #1 take away was “voice (not just smart speakers) is the next important user interface at home and in the car.”

I wasn’t surprised.

The Lowest Common Denominator

Here’s where we can expect technology to be headed to accommodate the next billion users that will be joining the digital media party. The next internet addicted people are those living in the developing world, the ones that will be shaping the internet over the next five years or less. They will be impacting ALL internet and mobile users.

What are the characteristics of these folks?

  • Literacy: lower levels of literacy will require different interfaces.
  • Language: a greater variety of language needs will inspire new content formats.
  • Technology: varying devices & connections will impact content format.
  • Motivations: new wants, needs, and desires will inspire new products & services.

Most of today’s internet is text based, but as populations of lower literacy levels sign-on, that will change this. Voice commands, image search and video content will become more dominant in the near future.

Economies of Scale

Technology companies are already working to have all devices and interfaces operate the same way on a global basis. Everything will be designed to cater to the lowest common denominator because it makes fiscal sense. It’s already happening on Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

Why Apple won’t ever put FM receivers into their iPhones.

FM, HD Radio, DAB and DAB+ are all different standards for broadcasting OTA radio signals and do not meet the test of a global standard.

The Next Internet Revolution is Coming

Look for the next billion to drive the next internet revolution in the areas of:

  • Search: SEO will look very different for voice-centric search.
  • Social: People’s social media interactions will be more video than text.
  • Shopping: E-commerce orders will depend on spoken word.
  • Addressing: URLs & Hyperlinks will move from text to image.

Convergence

Something I researched back when I was an undergrad, convergence, is coming to fruition in my lifetime. Every form of media will be delivered over the same pathway and received on the same type of device plus it will be on-demand and on our schedule, not the creator’s schedule.

Fred’s latest webinar shows that were deep into this transition.

If you’d like to take a Deep Dive into this subject, watch this Hootsuite webinar from 2018 HERE

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What’s Radio’s Why?

WHYSimon Sinek says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Watching the live streams of the 2018 Radio Show sessions and reading all of the reporting on the meetings in Orlando this past week, left me asking the simple question: “What’s radio’s why?”

College Kids on Radio

The RAIN Conference in Orlando put four college kids from the University of Central Florida on stage and asked them about their radio listening habits.

Spoiler Alert: They don’t have any radio listening habits.

These four students said things like “radio is obsolete,” “there’s no need for radio,” and “it’s very rare that I listen to radio.”

To these kids, radio doesn’t have any “why.”

What does?

YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify…in other words things that stream what they want, when they want it.

Write The Wrongs About Radio

George Johns and Bob Christy are getting together to write a blog aimed at fixing radio, by writing about the things they hear radio is doing wrong.

“(Radio) has to evolve to be relevant in today’s world,” they write. “There has been almost no evolution in radio (and) what George and (Bob) want to do is challenge radio to evolve and become relevant again.”

They write the  3 basics of great radio are: 1) be professional, 2) be interesting and 3) be entertaining.

The 25-54 Demo

Fred Jacobs wrote about the fabled radio demo of 25-54, also known as, the “family reunion demo.” It never really existed, except as a way for an agency buyer to get the C.P.P. (Cost Per Point) down for a radio station they really wanted to place their client on.

You would have thought as the number of radio signals increased, that the variety of programming choices would have too, but the reverse happened. Radio offered less choice of programming and music formats. As Fred writes, “broadcast radio surrendered its Soft AC, Smooth Jazz and Oldies stations to SiriusXM and streaming pure-plays.”

Millennials are not kids. I know, both of my sons are part of the millennial generation. They are both well-entrenched in successful careers and raising families.

The college kids referenced earlier are part of Generation Z. And those kids don’t know (or care) what radio even is. They don’t even know what life was like before smartphones. And smartphones have really replaced just about every other device Millennials and Boomers grew up with.

Norway Turns OFF Analog Radio

Norway is a country of about 5.5 million people. Norway turned off their FM signals almost a year ago and went all digital using DAB+. So what’s happened to radio listening in Norway?

Jon Branaes writes, “Norwegians still choose radio when they think it’s worth choosing. Radio has not lost our biggest fans but the more casual listeners.”

Norway has also seen FM listening replaced by internet delivered radio, which grew significantly after turning off analog FM signals. They expect smart speakers to contribute to even more of that type of listening in the future.

The Takeaways

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of Cromwell loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

“FM is not the future. DAB+ (digital broadcasting) can keep radio relevant in a digital future of endless choices.” But Jon Branaes adds, “Radio must respond with its core strengths – being live and alive, useful and present in listener’s lives.”

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Radio, the Same on Every Device, It’s Time

Once upon a time, cars were steered by a stick. The throttle was located on the steering wheel. The high beams switch was located on the floor. And it was different in every car. Computers started off all being different just like the software programs they operated. Today, the only real learning curve is switching between Microsoft and Apple for computers or Apple and Android for smartphones and even they aren’t all that different anymore.

It’s time for radio to standardize.

AM, FM, DAB, DAB+, HD Radio, HD2, HD3, HD4, Streaming….it’s insane. It’s confusing.

Norway, a country about the size of New Mexico has decided to standardize radio around the digital broadcast format. No more AM or FM, just digital. This caused uproar around the globe, but aren’t the Viking folks really doing radio in their country a favor? Standardizing around a single format?

Just imagine if the world operated on a standardized radio platform? All car manufacturers could build a universal radio platform into their vehicle dashboards worldwide and smartphones could all be designed to be used as radios anywhere in the world. Computers, tablets and even radios could all be on the same platform. Less variation in the method of transmission would be more impact.

Likewise, radio programming from any single source should be the same on all devices, not one way over-the-air and another way if you pick up the same broadcast on a stream. If you want to listen to a radio station in Los Angeles and you’re in Boston, you should hear everything being broadcast by that LA radio station. For the incremental dollars, broadcast radio stations degrade their streams with bumpy transitions, high repetition of nonsense filler material and just plain too long breaks; especially compared to commercial breaks on the pureplays.

The pureplays are paying 100% attention to their streams because it’s all they have. Broadcast radio stations handle their streams as an afterthought; if they even give them that much attention.

Hindsight is 20/20. Without changing, historians of broadcasting might one day say “What were they thinking?”

Radio owners and operators need to employ a technique called “premortem.”  What you do is imagine yourself in the future after your project has crashed and burned. In radio’s case, that would be to imagine that AM/FM broadcast radio has ended. The drill is to assume the patient died. You’re screwed. Everything that could go wrong did. You start there and ask “Why?”

Attacking the problem in this manner allows people to freely speak to the reasons things failed without retribution. You can’t kill a patient that’s already dead. See the magic in this exercise?

How could radio be improved on all platforms with this kind of thinking today?

I talk with lots of radio folks every week and in a hushed whisper they will freely share what they know to be wrong with radio today. But they in essence are “winking in the dark” and no one is stepping forward to say “the emperor has no clothes.”

Well here’s a way to do get everyone playing “devil’s advocate” and brainstorming ideas to improve radio programming, delivery and standardization.

If not now, when?

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