From the Corner Office: January 2013

January 15, 2013

Our Place in the Mad Digital DashPeter Smyth

It was five years ago that Greater Media launched our first mobile apps for smartphones.  It was two years ago that we began focusing on the digital dashboard, and it was last week that we were proud to be part of an announcement by Ford Motor Company that radio stations and a wide variety of other smartphone apps will connect with their SYNC system.  Greater Media’s 16 local station-branded apps are the inaugural broadcast group and are already connected.

Why is this significant?

Until last week, you had to be an international player with at least a nationwide footprint to vie for a partnership within the digital dashboard.  Yes, radio will still have an AM and FM dial in most cars, but in some models, local station brands would be lumped into a screen or menu through aggregators featuring thousands of internet radio stations or personalized music services.

We are determined not to get lost in the digital crowd.

Some bright folks at Ford looked at their SYNC system and took a move right out of Steve Jobs’ playbook by opening the digital dashboard to an entire ecosystem of independent developers’ creativity.  They rightly recognized that one auto maker or even a short list of popular app makers could not satisfy their customers in the long run.  In response, they decided to run a marketplace where they would allow access to the advanced features of their system and ensure that all apps work safely to insure highway safety.

That means that listeners to our stations can control their listening with voice commands as well as steering wheel buttons.  No more need to sneak a look at the phone while waiting at a red light to find out the name of the song or group. Live streams can be triggered by just saying, “Play stream” or “Stop stream,” while on-demand podcasts are available by just saying the name of the program such as “Drew & Mike” for users listening to 101 WRIF in Detroit.  It also provides a convenient way to listen to the station on a long distance drive outside the signal area of the station.

Through our long-standing partnership with jacAPPS, we are looking to build on this beginning to expand and deepen our digital offerings in the mobile area, as well as cooperating with other auto makers to make sure that our listeners can interact with the stations in any car and on any device.

This is a real game changer.  In-car listening has been at the core of our listeners’ radio habit since the 5 push-button radios of the 50′s. Now, in the 21st century, it is time for radio to evolve once again. In a world of virtually unlimited choices, we must provide much more to our audience than basic broadcast.  Our medium’s place in the listener’s hand and now in the car has untapped potential.  We must explore and refine new and fresh content of interest to our listeners and keep them intimately engaged with our stations.  Our competitive playing field has expanded exponentially with the advent of the mobile web, but radio’s deep, personal connection with our communities is a sound foundation upon which we can build.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we must embrace technology; ignoring the incredible transformation happening around us is a pathway to obsolescence.  But it’s technology in the service of our relationship and engagement with our listeners that really matters.  Otherwise, it’s just a new toy under the Christmas tree.

As always, I am interested in your feedback.