Are Car Radios’ Days Numbered?

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Drive time. It’s always one of the first things to come to mind when thinking about traditional radio’s reach. Those long hours on the D.C. Beltway, Los Angeles traffic jams, and the American tradition of the road trip are all places that radio helps us maintain our sanity in the face of our commutes. So far, it has also been the last place where Internet radio is uncommon. This is something that has changed drastically over the last year or two.

Many in-dash radios now include an iPod/iPhone port you can plug into. Of course, this is about as safe as texting while driving, i.e., not at all. I don’t think we will see any great longevity out of services that make you look down at your phone while driving. It is simply too much of a safety hazard.

Manufacturers are meeting that issue head on with the newer generation of receivers. Alpine’s iDA-X305S Digital Media Receiver with Pandora Link allows control through the in-dash receiver, but the display is still tied to the iPhone. The Pioneer AVIC X920BT takes things a step further and not only allows full iPod library control, but it also allows you to use Pandora from those same controls via a custom iPhone app.

Last.fm, Pandora and a plethora of new online audio options may be striking fear into the hearts of more timid members of our industry, but not me. The current trend of bringing the Internet into the vehicle is a huge boon for them, no doubt about that. It also happens to be a huge boon for radio.

As smartphones and autos become more compatible, the picture looks better and better for radio. As John R. Quain of The New York Times pointed out:

Ultimately, the incursion of Internet-based music services and radio station streams may be less about annihilating yet another business model than it is about breaking down barriers. For the first time, small local stations will be able to reach an entire driving nation, so some broadcasters may see their audiences swell as more listeners find them on Internet-connected car radios. In the end, it may simply be a case of radio is dead, long live radio.

I’ve already experienced this a lot over the past year. While discovering new stations here in Cincinnati, I have also been able to continue listening to my favorite shows back home in New Orleans. My audio options have expanded rather than being simply changed. To be able to do the same while driving sounds like a winner to me!

Image: jamescridland / CC BY 2.0
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