It was cloudless night; I was like 15 years old. I was sitting in my dad’s Oldsmobile 88, which I driven to the top of our hill, listening to some AM radio station from Chicago. I was listening for the NEW MUSIC feature they did every Saturday Night. It was a chance to discover something I’d never heard. It was a chance to be the first, first in my group of early adapters, to know about a new song. It was 10:52pm on that crisp early autumn night and something wonderful happened. The first drumbeats of “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel came on; I was mesmerized, hypnotized and convinced that the song was just for me.
All these years later, radio is still the number one way that people discover music. If you grew up here in Louisville, bet you have a specific memory of the 80’s and the first time you heard “Der Kommissar” blasting from WDJX. Recall in the 90’s, when you discovered grunge on WLRS. Maybe it was more recently, the thrill of hearing for the first time Mumford and Sons or Avett Brother on WFPK. Chances are most of those music discoveries were made in your car, listening to the radio. Vehicle listening is the biggest advantage of traditional radio, it's in every car, truck and van! But that radio on your dashboard is changing and it will soon contain the internet.
Justin Massoud, in the excellent article “Internet Ready Cars” stated that in the next 6 years “Internet radio will make its way into 24 million cars via internet capable in-dash radios.” You could soon listen to your personally designed internet radio station as easily as WQMF. For local internet radio junkie Amanda Farmer, she can’t wait. “I am so ready for this; it’s an answered prayer for a control freak like me.” Amanda estimates she spends 20+ hours a week with HER Pandora internet radio station. She’d love to be able to up that listening by having it in the car. And she’s not alone.
Egil Juliussen, an analyst for automotive infotainment, sees an explosion starting next year in the use of in-vehicle internet radios and apps that can stream music and content. And he’s not alone; Google, Apple and Blackberry are all launching or have launched cloud based music services, a place you can store your music-videos online and stream from anywhere, anywhere like the front seat of your car. The change is coming.
Full disclosure, I host a radio show on 102.3 FM in Louisville. And I have heard all this before: - 8 track players, Cassette players, Built in plugs for IPODS in the car were all “going to kill radio.” Yet, radio survives. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, 96% of people tune in radio in a given week, roughly the same audience size as in 1970. And only 3% of total listening to radio is of the online variety. So, Radio may be hanging on to audience, but to paraphrase an old ad campaign “This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile” dashboard.
As upgraded 3G/4G data streams make streaming content easier than ever, Pandora, Live365, Slacker and more recently Spotify make it easier to have an internet radio station. On each service, you tell it your favorite artist; click “like” on a few more choices and their apps flesh out a playlist/station for you. It can even identify new music for you to try. Farmer says her station “surprised me how much it picked songs that I liked, old and new”. But Amanda goes on to say, “one drawback is that it can start to sound all the same, or it finds and plays new songs, that I don’t like at all, so it’s not perfect…yet.”
How is traditional radio reacting? It has been more of a motivator than a harbinger of death for media companies like Clear Channel, where they have developed their own internet radio app, I HEART RADIO. It contains the same ease of station creation, and other features that Pandora, Spotify and others boast about.
So as this debate rages about who will be the king of music discovery and delivery. It reminds me of the Radio & MTV debate in the 80’s. MTV brought more choices, more ways to discover and enjoy music. But over the next 15 years, it lost the music battle to traditional radio. MTV changed direction, opting for less music more reality. Just like that contest, there are more choices coming to your car radio, and I believe that having more choice is always a good thing. But I wonder if all this choice will be a positive or will you’ll wind up with the internet radio version of “Jersey Shore” dominating your dashboard?
Photo by myoldpostcards