Presets: A Thing of the Past or More Important Than Ever?

Remember simplicity? You turned on the TV and picked through the choices on the major broadcast networks or, perhaps, a handful of basic cable channels. The broadcast network news anchors and the local daily paper were the unchallenged truth of news facts. The radio turned on when you started the car and if that station didn’t make you happy at that moment, you’d happily settle for what was behind one of the other five buttons.

The truth is we settled a lot more in the past. Fewer choices meant that you learned to make do with what was available. Fewer choices meant that your friends and family members were more likely to have consumed the exact same thing you did (so it was easier to talk about things you’d consumed). Fewer choices meant that you spent less time figuring out what to watch/read/listen to. Fewer choices also meant that lots of things weren’t really all that good.

The range of what most people can watch on TV now is staggering. Our access to journalism is unparalleled. And the variety of available audio entertainment options is every bit as wide. We’re now busy tabulating and compiling the newest NuVoodoo Ratings Prospects Study, our ninth and biggest yet, with over 5,500 interviews. Among many new questions in this study, we asked respondents when they most recently purchased a variety of devices – including a radio not installed in a car. While only a few people are buying new radios, they are buying new cars.

The trouble is that car radios are a thing of the past. New cars have entertainment systems where AM and FM radio are just items on a screen among many other options. During a car trip, a friend was unable to get the entertainment system in his car to tune to an FM station not already among his presets. He began by asking the voice command system in his Lexus to tune to the new station; the results were hilarious. After voice command failed, he took to the Lexus Remote Touch “infotainment interface;” no joy there either.

These changes amplify the need for stations to remind listeners to “set a preset” (“set a button” sounds antiquated today, many new cars don’t have “buttons”). The days of seeing the station’s billboard and quickly tuning in to check it out while driving may be over. We’ve known for years that stations that don’t get a preset usually fall outside a person’s weekly cuming. The stakes are higher than ever for getting listeners to “set a preset,” so it’s wise to think beyond a simple liner. What’s the benefit for someone to have instant access to your station? What would they miss out on if they don’t? What’s the exact address they need to know?

By the way, why don’t car radios have memory beyond presets? With digital audio storage now so inexpensive, wouldn’t it be great if your car radio remembered the past few minutes of audio on all your presets? If you tuned in during a favorite song, you could jog backwards in 30-second intervals and get back to the beginning. You could jog back to get the phone number or URL from a commercial. You could jog back to hear the entire traffic or weather report. It would be great if there was a new radio that people wanted to buy.