How Broadcasters Could Continue To Control The Dash


John Ellis is the founder and Managing Director of Ellis & Associates and the former global technologist for Ford. Ellis helped develop the Sync platform for Ford. And he was on a panel that focused on the connected car at the Radio Show in Austin, Tuesday afternoon. Here’s what he said about how broadcasters can continue to control the dash.

Ellis said the ecosystem in the automobile is being led by power. “Broadcasters control what gets connected to in the car. Don’t lose control in the connected car environment. The industry needs to come together to show they are in the driver’s seat.” Ellis says radio needs to have one voice when talking to auto OEMs and companies that make in-dash devices. OEMs hate fragmentation. The radio industry at large could hold big influence with automotive OEMs with a unified voice.” Radio does not have one voice now. There’s iHeartRadio, NextRadio,, and thousands of individual station apps.

Ellis said Internet radio is having an impact on in-dash decisions. “The Ford Expedition will no longer have a CD player, which will be replaced with streaming radio (IP). Many in the industry looked at it like ‘holy crap’ due to Ford’s conservative nature, but others are bound to follow.”


  1. Am I missing something? I have a relatively late model car, the radio sounds GREAT. I don’t listen to AM because… well for one thing… there’s nothing worthwhile to listen to on AM. I only listen to FM when I want traffic reports. Why? See previous.

    I was a highly successful broadcaster for 35 years. I left radio in disgust and went into the IT field. I saw what was becoming of the business due to consolidation, and I was right. Radio has always been an industry that eats it’s young, and it has now eaten away all of it’s talent, it’s only redeeming quality. There’s really nothing left on FM except “20 minutes of non-stop music” which anyone get get today on demand, and a cacophony of Rush/Sean right-wing blather on AM. Thanks, but I prefer my MP3s thankyouverymuch.

    Radio is ubiquitous and free… NO BRAINER! How anyone could have missed that is beyond me.

  2. How about the most effective weapon radio has against ALL other competitors for the dashboard? It’s called local, compelling programming which has been systematically destroyed by conglomerate radio looking for profitability by expense cut.

  3. So many missing stories and questions here.

    First is how the industry allowed the quality and usability of radios in dashboards to decline while focusing entirely on the threat of other entertainment options, rather than the opportunities for integration with them. The typical radio in a car today can’t get stations nearly as well as it did when the source was a full-size whip antenna outside the car’s body. And the electronics have become progressively more sucky.

    Its AM tuner for example, now denied full access to signals by that absent whip antenna, is made worse by audio that sounds like there are pillows over the speakers, when it shouldn’t have to. Sure, AM sound is inferior to FM, but not *that* much. (Oh, and AM is absent on many new electric cars, such as the Tesla. Too much computer noise, too little demand.)

    Why did the industry fail to learn from AM stereo’s failure (which didn’t need to happen) before it deployed HD so badly? How many listeners have a clue when a station identifies itself as “W(whatever)-HD” or says a stream can be found on “HD2” or “HD3”? What percentage of radios, in cars or anywhere, have HD at all, much less a UI that makes tuning these hidden signals easy?

    And what about UI standards, which could have been insisted on by the industry? It’s a rare car radio that has a knob for dialing stations, or an easily-found way to find and remember them. “Dialing” too often requires poking one’s way down a maze of menus, while in many cars just plugging a phone into a USB jack brings up all the phone’s music, plus the rest of what the phone does.

    And how about RDS? Its full portfolio of features included the ability to keep a radio on a station or program in the dash, seamlessly moving from one signal to another from multiple transmitters on multiple channels, across a region or country. That’s a standard grace across Europe (except for Norway, which now has no AM and FM stations at all), and was stupidly subtracted out in the U.S. version, which was dubbed “RDBS” and does nothing more than give the name of the station or the current tune. This bad decision failed to anticipate relaxed rules for ownership and translators, which has made RDS a sorely missed feature on US car radios.

    Why did the industry not do a better job of seeing podcasting coming, and the opportunity to integrate over-the-air radio with streaming on the Net and podcasting, suggesting or enforcing standards that fully respect the advantages and appeals of all three, including user interface guidance that maximizes ease of use?

    I could go on, but I don’t have much hope. The industry drove off the road long ago and left the driver’s seat to other parties—especially the occupants of cars, many of whom just plug or bluetooth their phones into the dashboard and say to hell with everything else that’s in there. That’s why the best strategy for the radio industry is to admit that the new steak is streaming and podcasting, and over-the-air is just gravy. Because that’s how the new generation of listeners see it anyway.

    • Doc:
      You’re on target with all observations. Here are two briefs to add: 1) Radio always attempted to make digital work within radio’s environment, instead of changing radio to fit digital; 2) The industry never bothered getting the most simplistic digital components to work, like RDS or email marketing.

      Then we have the speed at which execs would ostracize anyone who questioned radio’s digital abilities, and the loss of relevancy to youth was inevitable.

      Always waiting until the rest of the world has passed is the modus operandi of radio. (Example: It only now is discussing the importance of an Alexa “Skill.”) This is no way to run an industry.


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