Where is the AM/FM radio in my new car? (Steve Goldstein)

Guest contributor Steven Goldstein is Executive Vice President of Saga Communications. 

I purchased a new GMC Acadia two weeks ago — and one week later, it’s already on a recall list … arrghhh. So that’s disturbing item number one. Now, number two: Where is the AM/FM radio?  Repeat — no AM/FM.

acadia dashboard

When the car is started, the main screen includes various audio options: Pandora, Stitcher (a good but not well-known talk aggregator) Sirius/XM, a USB hub and a picture viewer. A picture viewer. Really? And GM thinks they have problems with recalling cars now.

So, where is the AM/FM? Could Radio Ink’s Eric Rhodes been correct with his apocalyptic pronouncement that AM/FM radio would be wiped out from cars? And this fast? Was the Jacobs Techsurvey10 study wrong in saying 89% of people consider AM/FM important when shopping for a new vehicle, and the top audio choice? Edison Research/Triton Digital’s The Infinite Dial 2014 found 86% are using AM/FM and 14% using streaming radio.

Well, I found the AM/FM.  And here is the incredibly eye-opening news to me and should be to everyone in the radio business —  we have been relegated to a second screen. One now has to click to find AM/FM. And to add insult to injury, AM/FM is no longer one of the physical buttons surrounding the screen.

The ergonomics of the screen itself in this 2014 GM car show how convoluted and difficult engineers can make the “center stack,” as it is known. For sure it’s not designed by anybody at Apple. There is little intuitive about it. Buttons are small, menus are complicated and the screen choices are clearly intended to promote GM’s economic partners, rather than focused on usability and pleasing customers.

Indeed all of the icons on the screen can be customized, but that is asking an awful lot of the average driver. My parents, my wife, even my kids may not have the technical ability, or desire, to reconfigure the menu.

Like a bolt of lightning, this tectonic change focuses the need for AM/FM radio to aggressively and rapidly advocate for itself to insure that we remain a central point in an increasingly complex choice of audio in the car.

The Dash conference in the fall moves up on my list of import as does the RAB and NAB’s voices in this matter.

PS: I also bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee recently and the screen in that car is what everyone in our business should hope for.

Steve Goldstein


    • Looks like you’ll be driving classic cars in a few years. AM/FM and it’s near 100 year old technology will be soon be departing radio altogether for a much superior worldwide delivery system… The Internet. Why this is so hard for so many to believe is astonishing.

  1. The choice of AM/FM placement on your new radio has nothing to do with preference for one provider or another. It has everything to do with the car makers being paid just like product placement to get the better visibility. If the 86/14 is correct and I think it is, the order should be reversed.
    I wonder if the car makers are getting a cut of the Internet access fees as well ?

  2. If this guy bought two cars recently, the radio industry can’t be in that bad shape after all.

  3. The audio interfaces of many modern vehicles look like they were designed by people from some weird parallel universe. They are awful.

  4. Thanks for this Steve! I have a Mitsubishi and the AM/FM are a little hard to find there too. Perhaps we should be working as an industry to lobby the auto manufacturers to understand the importance of the listener/driver experience. We can assume that the car with the best over-all driver/listener experience will win in the end. Hopefully!

  5. Or maybe AM/FM, with it’s limited music choice and 16 minutes of commercials, is exactly where it belongs. For a 50+ listener where can I listen to Adult Standards, Classic Country or Smooth Jazz? I want Pandora right up front. If I’m 17, where’s my EDM, Electronica,Hip Hop stations with no interruptions? Pandora. If i want to listen to the 4 sports stations, 2 top 40’s , or the 2 AC’s with screaming car ads every 5 minutes, then maybe I’ll go to page 2. AM/FM lost the desktop, the cellphone and soon, the last bastion- the car. As far the research, why do we believe radio research done by radio research companies for radio people? Think there’s any bias there?

    • Fred, you can find all the music genres you are talking about on our 24/7 all digital radio station. Best news of all, it’s commercial free. We are digital radio pioneers in Canada, having been in the industry for 40 plus years I wanted to have that “original personality driven” radio sound with new technology. I also wanted to be independent of public govt. funded regs, and rules for community radio content. I think we have a model that can be duplicated in any community in North America. We have some fine tuning to do, but I think we are on the right track. Give us a listen at http://www.peachlandradio.com Happy to share our successes along the way with kindred radio pioneers and newby station owners. “He who gets their first is going to win”- Jeffrey Katzenberg at the Double Click Digital Marketing Conference; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZXZB3iwo3Y&list=PLTzhNbuEe_C8PLOZjd2ktPxCBIR2LWEBs&feature=share

  6. Hmm. My cassette player works just fine. And…its easy to find, too.

  7. The auto industry will look to extrap revenue wherever they can. Like the Nest thermostat, the data a connected dash will yield to revenue opportunities that they will split with their partners…since radio does not pay, the mftrs will try to morph the space to their own benefit- not the consumers.

  8. This is also a potential safety hazard as people divert their attention to navigate increasingly complicated screens with more options and a different layout for each car manufacturer.

  9. I think GM will find, especially with THAT brand, they have made a huge mistake. It’s not like you bought a Chevy “Sonic” targeted at 18-24 year olds. If new car owners can’t find the radio (and I by radio I mean broadcast stations, not the “radio” Pandora serves up) they will be back in their dealer’s service bays asking for a replacement radio or–at very least–how to find their favorite radio stations on the newfangled connected dash. I see this as another solution to a problem most car buyers don’t have. Especially in a GMC.

  10. GM fits the definition of a camel,(a horse made by a committee) .
    Too many better cars in the same price range.

  11. Considering that 92% of all Americans still listen to AM/FM every week – more than any of the other audio platforms – this is simply “forward thinking foolish.”

  12. GM is simply responding to consumer demand. Commercial radio may be mad that they aren’t on the first screen. The answer is simple: build a better product that consumer demand ahead of Pandora or a USB interface for their music player/phone. Make something consumers want badly enough to easily access it, and you’ll be on the first screen.

  13. Guys, I left the business 5 years ago. Radio stations will begin to close, just as book stores and video rental stores. Things are just changing. Roll with it and don’t fight it. The research and trends have moved in this direction for years. Car radio is ALL that is left and that will be gone in a few years. I’d say 5 to wrap it up as people will still drive older models. Not to be harsh but people in radio need to get ready to expand to new frontiers. I did it and you can too.

  14. Did you try the user’s manual? To access the AM source on your GMC IntelliLink4 system, simply press the AM or FM icon on the touch-screen interface, hit the SOURCE button and find icon within in the navigation bar or say, “Tune to FM 96.3” to have the system do the work for you.

  15. If the engineers who design the digital dashboards are this much in control that they can relegate us to a second screen, perhaps it’s because they don’t know the customer’s preferences according to the Techsurvey and Edison studies. Are representatives of the industry going to the conventions these designers go to in order to tell radio’s story?

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