Regular Radio Still Popular In Cars

With so many listening choices in modern cars, from satellite radio to streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, one might imagine that the era of AM/FM radio is coming to an end, but it isn’t.

Radio has proved incredibly resilient, as a study released this month by media tracking company Nielsen shows. The auto industry has taken notice, investing in a transition to digital radio, even as CD players disappear from the dash.

This year in the U.S., about half of new cars sold will be outfitted with a service called HD Radio, which offers a crisper signal and thousands of extra stations. The service was developed by iBiquity Digital Corp. of Columbia, Md., which won an endorsement from the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 to start a switch from analog to digital broadcasting.

“If anything, I think radio is becoming more entrenched — not less,” said Robert Struble, CEO of iBiquity, which licenses the HD Radio software to infotainment suppliers such as Fujitsu Ten, Clarion and Harman.

More than 90 percent of Americans listen to radio at least once a week, according to the report by Nielsen, which advises broadcasters and media buyers on advertising rates. That is down just a few percentage points from before the rise of digital music, said Jon Miller, vice president of audience insights at Nielsen.

Nielsen cannot easily compare its AM/FM radio numbers to the dozens of Internet streaming services, let alone downloaded music that is being played over a Bluetooth connection. So it’s possible AM/FM radio is losing market share, Miller said, but the pie is growing: People seem to be listening to more content than ever.

“Radio’s great strength has always been in the car,” he said. “That’s still true, even with more and more options.”

IBiquity, which holds 150 patents around HD Radio, generally loads its software onto a stand-alone chip from Texas Instruments or NXP Semiconductors. Texas Instruments also offers the software preloaded onto its Jacinto infotainment processor.

The total cost is $5 to $25 per car, Struble said, down from roughly $100 in 2005. In 2005, BMW announced it would be the first company to offer HD Radio in a production car.

HD Radio was a natural fit for Scion, which updates its standard infotainment system every two years or so, said Korey Tsuno, a manager who oversees audio equipment and makes sure Scion’s cars play nice with aftermarket stereos.

Scion found HD Radio an inexpensive and simple way to make listening more pleasant without making customers fumble with a smartphone. Added to Scion’s infotainment system in 2011, HD Radio has stayed there through two updates. A new system, with a 7.1-inch touch screen, makes its debut in the FR-S coupe this summer.

“With radio,” Tsuno said, “you get in your car, and it’s on.”

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