Perhaps you recall a moment when I leapt from my chair to challenge the panel of automotive experts at our Radio Ink Convergence conference, when they stated that AM/FM radio could potentially disappear from the auto dashboard.
That was followed up by a blog with an urgent message indicating that automakers were considering dropping broadcast radio at some point in the future. Reaction to that blog was the strongest I've ever received. It made a lot of people angry, I had calls to retract it (which I did, but only correcting the time frame that had been stated), angered a lot of my friends in the broadcasting business, and even got picked up by hundreds of other blogs and press. I knew it was a giant issue when I got a call from a national TV news reporter wanting me to go on camera. I declined.
That blog came out in June of 2013, and since that time so much of what was predicted would happen has already begun. In response, Radio Ink started the DASH conference with Jacobs Media and connected car expert Valerie Shuman in order to address these concerns and keep radio in a dialogue with the auto companies so that radio remains a high priority -- and doesn't disappear.
Radio's Biggest Issue
I daresay the connected car is radio's biggest looming issue. Though my blog received a response from the chairman of General Motors stating that GM had no intention of removing AM and FM radio from the cars -- qualified with "in the near future," which was a bit disquieting -- the connected car issues have become huge even if AM and FM are still in cars. BMW just announced that one model will be removing AM radio entirely, citing an electrical interference issue. Porsche has done the same with one model.
Radio's Great Disappearing Act
Whether or not the auto companies are actually declining to install radios is not really the biggest issue. The issue is consumers and how easy it is for them to use AM and FM on a digital dash. As we revealed at last year's conference, consumers are having trouble even finding AM and FM on many of these new connected cars. A recent blog post from Saga Communications Steve Goldstein states that maybe I was right. After purchasing a new car, he discovered there was no AM or FM -- or so he thought. Ultimately he found broadcast radio after scrolling through screens of options. Will consumers go to that much trouble?
At last year's conference we showed videos of consumers who got into their new connected cars and were instructed to find the radio. Many could not find it, could not figure out how to make it work, or, worse, found other options so much easier these self-proclaimed loyal radio listeners said they had stopped using radio and started using services like Pandora, which they'd never expected they would do. It was discomfiting when they said they wouldn't buy a car for one of those services, but since it was there, decided to use it and found they liked it better than radio. Ouch.
Changing How Radio Is Discovered
We also learned that anyone who drives a new connected car has to control the radio differently, often with voice commands or complex multi-step touchscreens that are difficult to use when driving. The video shows several frustrated consumers trying to get the radio to find their favorite stations, but discovering it couldn't recognize voice commands when they cited the station name, frequency, or slogan. Unless the command was stated exactly as programmed -- such as "find WXXX 94.7 FM" -- the system couldn't find it. Even simple commends like "Go to 95.5 FM" will get no results on some systems. This -- and other things we discovered about how consumers use radio -- were a red flag that programmers need to train their users to use radio differently.
Two Giant Players Enter the Car Audio Battle
I wasn't sure how long this connected car buzz would last, but based on the level of activity and the people coming into the space, I think this is the birth of a new age, and a sector that will evolve rapidly for many years to come. Since last year's DASH conference, two NEW major players have decided to try their hand at dominating the audio and app portion of the dash -- and they're both accustomed to winning. The entry of Apple and Google shows just how important in-car audio is and how this battle for dashboard presence and ownership will impact your world. Chances are their interests are not in consumers spending time with AM or FM but with iTunes radio or Google Play.
Playing Packed Rooms
Fred and Paul Jacobs, Valerie Shuman, and myself are receiving invitations to speak about the connected car all around the world, and rooms at these events have been packed. Advertisers, radio people, and even tech companies are very curious about what they can do with this changing dashboard, how to respond, and, for radio, how to maintain its dominance in the car. Our DASH connected car conference is designed for people who need answers and solutions.
Anger – Resentment – Rage
Many broadcasters are angry at me, as though my discovery of this issue was my fault. I just happened to stumble into it when I put these car manufacturers on the stage at my conference so we could get an update on the space. Never did I imagine I would hear some saying they thought radio would eventually disappear completely.
The Critical Role of the DASH Conference
I could not stand by and let this happen to the industry I have participated in for the last 45 years. Speaking loudly about it was not enough -- and it was being met with deaf ears by those who didn't want a dose of potentially very unpleasant reality. By starting this conference with Jacobs and Shuman, we have already achieved some moments when the auto industry has stood up and said, "Wait, maybe we should listen to these guys."
We managed to get executives from major auto manufacturers into a room and even orchestrated a lunch, which we hosted, with top-level auto people and top radio CEOs to create a dialogue. But that is not enough. It's just a start. Radio as an industry needs to make a show of commitment. The room at DASH is filled with auto people, OEM people, car dealers, and others who care most about selling cars that people love. Radio must again become top-of-mind with the auto industry players, some of whom who have been led to believe broadcast radio is less relevant than it once was.
You need to be there to reinforce your story in your town, and talk about how you interact with your audiences. Last year we had lots of feedback from people at the automotive level who told us they never had any contact with radio before and were excited to learn all the good things they weren't hearing about. This needs to continue.
How Professionals Respond to Change
The challenge in this rapidly changing world is that we have to know about changes in order to be a valued resource to our advertisers and our own survival. Anyone running, programming, or managing radio stations today has to be up to speed fast. Since in-car makes up at least 50 percent of all radio listening, this issue of the connected car is of paramount importance to you and your stations and your future. You not only need to understand what changes are coming down and how to respond to them, you need to know what else is being offered in the auto world, how it's being sold, and what your new competitors for the car audio space are planning. Professionals know that ignoring these trends, or failing to understand them, is not an option. Professionals learn obsessively and respond to change fast. It can mean life or death in this rapidly changing world.
Relevant to Radio
The DASH conference is relevant to your world today. Your eyes will be opened to things you probably never could have imagined are possible, things your advertisers will get excited about, things that will change the way radio reaches people in the car, and information on what car dealers are doing now to sell cars and the role radio does (or does not) play. You will be in the room with dealers, automakers, and OEM people who hold the future of the car dashboard in their hands. Your attendance can not only make a difference in your future, you'll take home relevant information to help you sell more automotive advertising in your market. Guaranteed.
To sign up for the DASH conference, call 561-655-8778 or visit www.dashconference.com.
PS: I just responded to an e-mail from a wonderful, successful small-market radio broadcaster who accused me of being melodramatic about changes so I could sell more magazines. But if I'm being dramatic, it's because there is major change happening around you and this is the once chance we as broadcasters will have to keep radio front and center on the dashboard.
If you think it's a sure thing, you probably did not attend DASH last year, where those in the room met with the realities we face as an industry. My "drama," if you will, is not about selling magazines, it's about keeping radio strong, relevant, and viable in a changing digital world. Shooting the messenger only makes sure the message does not get through. The auto is turf we must protect and fight for, and it's in the hands of people who are willing to join us in Detroit to dialogue about it and keep an open mind. Your role, your story could be critical. We hope you'll attend.