What Is Radio’s Place In The Dash?


It’s an issue radio has been struggling with for years. As technology continues to invade the automobile, specifically the dashboard, will radio continue to dominate that real estate? The majority of radio listening is done in the car. A lot of that had to do with the fact that when you slid behind the wheel, there it was, right in front of you, with buttons and presets. Maybe there was a cassette deck or a CD player to compete with radio, but not much else. Until recently that is.

The future of the dash — now called the head unit by auto manufacturers — is here.

And, it’s being driven by the smartphone. The automotive industry wants consumers to be able to do exactly what they do with their smartphones when they slide in the car, as they were doing when they were outside the car. That means the screen on the consumer’s phone will be the same screen they see on the head unit when they get ready to drive. Where does your station fit into that mix?

Scott Burnell is the Global Lead for Ford’s Business Development & Partner Management. He’s always frank about what’s going on in the dashboard and, over the years, he’s been a great resource for radio, helping the industry understand what’s going on in Detroit. During a “Connected Car” panel at the Radio Show, Thursday, Burnell said the head units rolling out in all new automobiles talk to a consumer’s phone. He said there’s no privilege for radio anymore, it’s now a level playing field. He said the idea that radio has that it still owns listeners in the car is no longer true. We spoke to Burnell after the panel to get specifics about where these new head units are heading and what the radio industry should do about it.

RI: So you now have technology where consumers can get the same exact experience in the car as they were getting on their phone?
Burnell: Yes. The idea is the vehicle is not where people are going to discover. The vehicle is where people are going to bring their habits from outside. So, whatever they’re doing outside the vehicle, if it’s appropriate to be in the vehicle, we want them to be able to do it, so they’re connected in life, and they’re not doing it by picking up a device and looking at it. They are doing it through the interaction and the interface of


the vehicle.

RI: And you said you really see this a lot with younger people.
Ford: Younger people are not listening to the radio the way that those of us that are over 30 or over 40 are doing. They don’t have physical radios. They don’t have receivers outside. They don’t have a receiver in the house. They don’t have a jam box they carry around with them. They’re listening to music through streaming on their mobile device. That’s how they are consuming content. So when they get in their vehicle, they are not always looking for broadcast radio. They are looking for what they’re familiar with, which is the Pandoras and the Spotifys of the world.

RI: What do broadcasters need to know about the head unit?
Ford: It means if you look at one now, it’s a computer screen. If you think about your phone or a tablet or a computer screen, you can put anything you want on there. It’s not the two knobs and the five buttons anymore. Now when you get in the vehicle, whatever you use, is there. So, if you don’t use broadcast radio regularly, you just don’t see it there, because it falls back in the list of priorities of what you have on your dashboard.

RI: Is radio doing as good a job as the Pandoras and the others making sure they have prime real estate?
Ford: Not within the OEMs, I don’t think so. They think it’s a privilege. They feel because they’ve always been there that it’s always going to be there. And it will always be there, but it won’t be prominent. You won’t get in and turn on the car and see just the radio. You’ll get in and see navigation, your apps, the things you recently connected to. Which of these do you want to use? So, radio is not front and center, it’s no longer the first thing you see. It may be two or three or four pages down, where you see a radio button.

RI: So, you say it’s now a level playing field…
Ford: Yes. When you turn on the vehicle, it doesn’t just pop up with a radio. It pops up with everything that you already use, things that you’ve used and you’ve brought in with you. So, if you were just recently on a trip and you used navigation, that’s the first thing that you see. If you had Pandora on, or if you were using an application in your car, if you were listening to streaming, and you get out, when you get back in, it automatically connects back to that again. That way you don’t lose where you were. So, radio doesn’t even show up. You have to go out of that app and go back to a source screen, and then you can find radio.


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