Least Objectionable Programming or Premium Content?

If you’ve bought or even toyed with a new car recently, you know the reality of car infotainment systems. The former shrine to AM/FM in the center of the dashboard has been replaced by a multitude of services and options. While some include access to HD channels, navigating them is a challenge for even the most tech-savvy. “Tuning in” a new channel, one that’s not in your presets, while driving is nearly impossible on most car systems.

If you’ve not programmed the presets in a 2017-2018 car, you owe it to yourself to go kick the tires on a few models. Try “tuning the radio” on the fly on a few new models and you’ll come away reminded of the importance of your station being on a preset. You might even consider running promos again reminding listeners to “program a preset” (“set a button” is quicker, but dated). You could consider having well-informed tech nerds at station events to help listeners with their new car infotainment systems – you might even get to show a few listeners how to access the HD channels.

Take a moment to look at it from the perspective of our sisters and brothers at TV stations. The last thing that gets set up on most new TV’s is the antenna. Sure, lots of people access their local channels through a cable company set-top box, but you keep hearing about people “cutting the cable” and relying on Netflix, Hulu, etc. How many of those folks have figured out how to hook up a current-generation TV antenna?

The widening number of auto “infotainment” options is the reason we’re excited by the prospects of voice assistants coming to cars. Well-branded channels and programs will have the upper hand in the coming world. Having Alexa, Siri, Cortana and the like switch from source to source will eventually be better than trying to run through several menus while driving. Radio has an advantage here in being able to teach listeners what to say to access its programming when using voice assistants.

Just as people are “cutting the cable,” we hear some millennials bragging that they don’t listen to regular radio. Taking a lesson from TV, we see that compelling, unique content is the key to battling this. It’s easy to forswear basic cable, until you realize you’d be missing Full Frontal or The Alienist. Broadcast networks as well are pivoting from the old model of schedules built from least objectionable programming to more shows built from their attempts at premium content.

It’s easy for listeners to find (or create) playlists of songs they like using Spotify, Pandora and the like – and get fewer commercials in the bargain. It’s premium content that will keep them coming back to broadcast radio. That means more (and better) morning shows, experiments with higher-profile shows in afternoons and other dayparts, more idiosyncratic material threaded through the day – more unique, compelling content to give current listeners something to talk about when their friend says, “I don’t listen to regular radio.”