Earlier this week, many of you weighed in with opinions about the so-called EV Revolution – the auto industry's excitement about electrified vehicles. This year at the virtual CES, electric cars emerged as a bona fide trend. Just about every manufacturer is debuting EVs, including a new Mustang SUV, as well as the revivals of the GMC Hummer.
But as has been the case for the past decade or more, it's the car dashboard where the action is. And that's the technology where radio broadcasters need to keep a close watch.
One of the most aggressive and innovative in-dash designs at CES belonged to Mercedes-Benz – their Hyperscreen is what Shawn DuBravac calls a pillar-to-pillar display.
And AI is the engine that will decide what the driver sees, based on the media – entertainment and information – is accessed most often: Spotify, Google Maps, NPR podcasts, and hopefully, AM/FM radio become part of the visible menu.
Or vinyl records.
Fred Jacobs shows radio personalities how to take their game to the next level in this webinar recording.
Playing music on vinyl is about as “old school” as you can go, and turntables are showing up more and more in our homes. Along with smart speakers, hearables, and 3D headsets, our Techsurveys continue to track ownership of those devices that play vinyl records.
In this year's survey, ownership hit a 4-year high. Now, 36% of our radio-centric respondents have one, especially Baby Boomer males who are fans of the Triple A, Classic Rock, and Variety Hits formats.
But a turntable in a car?
Modern technology is good, but apparently not that good. We now have the technology to build cars that can drive themselves and park themselves. We have cars that sense you may be drowsy (or impaired) and will send you alerts to avoid an accident.
We even have cars that know you like Starbucks and inform you that because you're running early this morning, it will text you a coupon for your grande latte to use at the nearest store that's 1.2 miles away, and then provide turn-by-turn directions.
But the challenge of building an in-car turntable has proved to be as difficult as sending a human to Mars (wait, can't we do that?). It's one thing to install a turntable just below the “center stack.” It's another thing to stabilize and insulate it so the tone arm wouldn't skip every time the car finds a speed bump or hits a pothole.
Turntables in car is not a new idea. Chrysler actually pioneered this technology back in the 1950s with a feature called Highway HiFi. You can see it pictured at the top of this post. The left hand is on the wheel, the right hand is placing the tone arm on the record. Talk about distracted driving – what could possibly go wrong?
The development of Highway HiFi back when Ike was president tells us that even back then, automakers were wondering why the home entertainment state of the art couldn't be available in cars. And the idea of a turntable in the dash was a sort of on-demand idea – instead of having to listen to a DJ on the radio picking the hits, you could program your own personal playlist – in this case, playing vinyl records, while you cruised the boulevard.
Highway HiFi had a three year run, available as a feature in certain Chrysler models. And it wasn't cheap. Car & Driver calculates Highway HiFi would cost nearly $2,000 in today's dollars – an option that few obviously opted for or could much less afford.
And to complicate things, Highway HiFi compatible records weren't the same ones consumers were playing on their home phonographs. Developed by Columbia Special Products, Highway HiFi required specially pressed records that ran just 16⅔ rpm – half the speed of an album. That breakthrough allowed for longer music spans without having to change records.
Sadly, Highway HiFi frequently malfunctioned, and there was a limit on available records. Only 42 were ever released.
It didn't take long for Chrysler to bail on the project.
You'd think the story would end there. After all, the auto industry (and after-marketers) have experienced success with 8-track, cassette, and CD players in dashboards. And since we've been able to plug in/pair our phones, the sky's the limit on the entertainment we can bring into our vehicles.
But for now, we still can't play a vinyl record while driving to and from work, school, or running errands. Of course, analog record albums have made a fascinating comeback these past several years. They outsold CDs for the first time in decades last year.
So, fast-forward 65 years – and vinyl is finding its way back in the dash.
Lexus has developed a concept called IS Wax to apparently to achieve proof of concept. It is indeed possible to drive while listening to “Dark Side Of The Moon” or “Lemonade.” The system was developed as a collaboration with Pitchfork, musicians Madlib and Kaytranada, and Hollywood effect house SCPS.
They're only making one of these special vehicles to apparently make the point that Lexus has the brains, the desire, and the innovative spirit to pull it off.
The audio system in the IS Wax is state of the art – a Mark Levinson design, featuring 17 speakers and an amp that cranks 1800 watts of power, enabling you to hear every pop, skip, scratch, and even cue burn.
The short video below, produced by SCPS, takes you behind the scenes so you can see how the IS Wax was developed, engineered, and brought to the dashboard. It will give you an appreciation the process was a tad more complex than simply dropping a turntable into the glove box.
If technology can do all that, virtually anything can be brought into the car to entertain and inform drivers – and passengers.
For radio broadcasters, the in-car experience gets more complicated every year.
(Just don't leave those precious vinyl albums in the car on a hot summer day.)
- Ignore Those Video Game Stereotypes – Women Are Major Players - April 15, 2021
- Why Work From Home Eats Radio Station Culture For Lunch - April 14, 2021
- Why The “Howard Stern Question” Works For Almost All Radio Stations - April 13, 2021