Driving with iPod: Threat to Radio or Satellite?

by Janet Meyer Aug 08, 2006

On August 3 Apple Computer announced that it has struck a deal with three major automakers to provide an easy iPod connection in vehicles. The result has been speculation as to whether this sounds the death toll for satellite or terrestrial radio. First, here are some of the details on iPod integration for your driving time.

The three companies involved are Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Mazda. Mazda will offer an iPod feature on its 2007 cars and SUVs, but details weren’t announced yet.

Ford will provide two ways to use your iPod. Several models will offer built-in auxiliary, audio-input jacks designed to work with any MP3 player that has a standard 3.5 millimeter audio output. Beginning early next year, Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers will provide Ford’s TripTunes advanced audio system. This system is designed specifically for iPods. It allows drivers to store their iPods in the glove compartment and use the steering wheel or radio controls to select music. Users can also charge their iPods using TripTunes.

General Motors has 56 models of vehicles and plans to offer iPod connections on all of them. According to Information Week, GM will provide an iPod adaptor called the Personal Audio Link, which connects to the XM Satellite digital band on GM car stereos. Users can also plug their iPod into it even without a satellite subscription. The only MP3 player the Personal Audio Link will only work with is iPod.

This deal represents more than 70% of 2007 model cars in the United States. It has radio stations, including satellite radio, worried.

I’m not sure that they should be. Radio killers have been heralded as much as iPod killers, but radio has a much longer history of survival. MTV was an early threat because some people thought that consumers would prefer video to audio. Cable television and the internet were both viewed as potential radio killers because they would take up the time people used to use for listening to radio. MP3 players have been considered a threat, and satellite radio was supposed to herald the end of terrestrial radio.

Though I would be surprised if iPod integration into vehicles would make radios obsolete, I hope that it causes a few changes. One of the biggest worries for radio is that people will listen less in their cars, which has a direct impact on advertising revenue.

Yet I already listen to less radio, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. A major factor for me is commercials. I realize that commercials pay for the music I listen to, but now there are as many advertisements on the radio as there are on television. Between the deejay chatter and commercials, it is not unusual to leave home and reach my destination without hearing a single song.

Yet I will never completely forsake radio. Where else can I hear new music? As much as I love the songs I have loaded on my MP3, sometimes I want something different. Other days I want to hear the news, and if weather is threatening, I can’t get updates on an iPod.

Then there is the question of satellite radio. It’s an industry that has yet to make a profit, but the subscriber base continues to grow. Ford plans to increase the number of vehicles offering satellite radio. Also note that the General Motors plan for the iPod offers satellite connection.

Tape decks didn’t destroy radio. I doubt that iPod will, either. It may, however, pressure the industry into even new ideas. With the iPod exclusivity on TripTunes and GM, I would be more concerned about the impact on Zune and other MP3 players.




  • You’ll find there are times when the radio is important and when it’s nice to hear something different. Putting iTunes/iPods into cars is great but the radio will not be dead. It may be listened to less, but the same holds true when Cassettes were intro’d to cars, then CD’s, then MP3 compatible systems where you can put an iPods capacity of music onto a CDR…

    It’s great for Apple and will help sales on GM/Ford lines as well. Our family is allready GM, however you wouldn’t know it seeing a Saab and a Suzuki in the driveway… But Saab is owned by GM (she’s got on-star too) and Suzuki and GM have been partners since the early 80’s. My XL7 even has a GM tranny in it, as do every auto 4wd Suzuki. So for me it’s great that my next vehicle will most likely have iPod integration into it, and maybe iPod video displayed on my DVD system… Hey, there’s the catch… Think about it.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 172
  • Radio’s worst enemy is itself—not pre-recorded music in any format.

    Beside too many commercials, the music programming is insipidly lowest-common denominator. All of this is caused by the structurally unsound economics of the industry.

    Radio has lost many listeners over the last two decades and will continue to do so. The industry is in a slow, death spiral of its own making.

    Tiger had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 14
  • There’s some great radio in Britain.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • iPOD in the car + Satellite Radio =
    A SIRRIUS one-two Punch to Regular Radio… and yes, the pun was intended. 

    Why is the combo so good?

    iPod = All the music you want to hear + specific news topics that interest you (as in Podcasts)

    Satellite Radio = your source for New Music, national/world/sometimes local news + TIVO-like controls for pausing/fast forwarding/rewinding up to 40 minutes of the show (some radio’s don’t do this at all, some may do it for longer)...

    I have this set-up in my car, and the regular terrestrial radio gets less than 1% of the play-time during my drives.  That 1% is totally comprised of listening to a local news station whenever there’s a traffic jam or some seriously bad looking weather floating on the horizon of where I’m heading.  Other than that, iPod and Sirrius combine to give you an unprecedented level of control over what you can choose to listen to. 

    It’s sort of like getting to be your own station manager via iTunes and your Satellite pre-sets. 

    Here’s another perspective on how this works against regular radio… and their advertisers. 
    I’ll listen to regular radio, and suffer through the ads if and only if there’s extremely poor satellite reception AND I forget to grab my iPod before I leave the house. 

    I know, not everyone will adopt this same arrangement of iPod and Satellite… but this article is pointing to the fact that more and more car manufacturers are supporting Satellite radio units as OEM, and getting on board with iPod-specific connections as well.  At least then, maybe things are trending towards regular radio becoming more and more obscure.

    MacMojo151 had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 1
  • The result has been speculation as to whether this sounds the death toll for satellite or terrestrial radio.

    Like the other responses, I continue to listen to regular radio (no satellite for me yet) despite my mp3/CD player and my iPod.

    That’s not to say my listening habits won’t change, with better integration of iPod or a Tivo-like device for satellite or regular radio.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I flew to Boston recently and from the Chrysler Pacifica that I rented, I thought I was listening to a satellite radio for the head unit panel was chock-full of metadata of the current playing song, it got me curious.

    The sound quality was better than FM (this can be subjective for each person) and about as good as a CD or at least 128kbps MP3/AAC.

    What got my gears grinding was these were all FREE to consumer over the airwaves. I found out it was a trial for HD Radio by Ubiquity. It is the destined replacement for both analog AM and FM by the radio broadcasting industry. It is not a complete replacement because HD Radio will not obsolete analog AM/FM overnight. It will peacefully coexist with those two pioneers for many decades to come.

    But as far as the iPod or any other portable media/satellite radio in automobiles will not destroy radio for one reason - only in broadcast systems can you activate public emergency services or real-time dangerous weather information. Can you do that with podcasts? vodcasts? satellite radio?

    Another reason for terrestrial radio broadcasts: advertisements. It is the best form of localized advertising along with the local newspaper. This reason alone can feed terrestrial radio broadcasts for generations of would-be-killers to come.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Personally, the only thing I’ve listened to on radio for five or more years now is National Public Radio. I’m waiting for a Sirius option for my car so I can get NPR more easily when I travel.

    Scott_R had this to say on Aug 08, 2006 Posts: 17
  • Ipods have been available for some carparts shops too.. It was a great integration of technologies.. Making it all in one..

    DanGrey had this to say on Dec 15, 2010 Posts: 2
  • We’ll nothing could ever stop radio that;s one thing for, because mainly no music star. Great post!

    Car Audio Guy had this to say on Jan 05, 2011 Posts: 1
  • I just imagine using an iPod during a V8 race. It’s probably going to be a popular choice in the future to come, especially that an iPod can have a radio built within. So, if you are asking me, the old car radio is something that will disappear from our cars.

    IBMdude had this to say on Sep 02, 2011 Posts: 50
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