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Are Car Radios on the Way Out?

IntelliLink infotainment system
Photo courtesy of General Motors.

If you remember when cars came with eight-track or cassette players, you know that technology has had an impact on how you listen to music in your car. Tape decks gave way to compact disc players, and now, many drivers listen to music through their smartphones or MP3 players. Radios have been available in cars since 1930, according to Car and Driver, and unlike these newer audio technologies, AM/FM radio has endured through the audio technology changes of the past 80 years.

That may be changing, however. The Detroit News recently spoke with Thilo Koslowski, a vice president at research firm Gartner Inc., who says that “AM and FM as a delivering mechanism isn't going to be the most important in cars anymore.” An increasing number of smartphones, along with in-vehicle Internet connectivity, mean that more and more music listeners will stream music through a mobile device or infotainment system rather than an AM/FM radio. “By 2020, I feel very confident that many consumers will consume radio content through avenues other than terrestrial broadcast,” Koslowski says.

Satellite radio has played a role in the shift away from AM/FM. Many new cars are available with satellite radio, and most automakers include free trial subscriptions with a new vehicle purchase. Marketplace says, “Half of listeners coming off of a trial subscription stay on to become paid subscribers.” Additionally, many of these customers are vehicle buyers. Marketplace also writes that Internet radio services like Pandora and Spotify have gained traction as in-vehicle music platforms.

However, some experts say that AM/FM radio will endure. Strategy Analytics Senior Analyst John Canali, who focuses on automotive multimedia, tells The Detroit News, “You don’t want to alienate customers.”

In further defense of AM/FM radio, Autoblog says that “current technology doesn't produce a reliable high-speed cell signal everywhere, whereas AM and FM signals are largely reliable over vast distances.”

What do you think? Do you still primarily use your car’s AM/FM tuner, or do you stream music through your car’s infotainment system or another source?

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