Cooley On Cars
Car Tech 101: New radio options for your carThe car has long been the standard location for radio listening. Many of us listen to little or no radio anywhere else. But today the definition of "radio" in the car is changing fast. Brian Cooley explains.
[MUSIC] Now it used to be that radio in the car was pretty simple stuff. You had AM and FM, or just AM if your car is of a certain vintage. And you might even recall factory CB radio, if you're of a certain vintage. Then things got interesting. [MUSIC] Now radio remains the number one listen in cars today by a wide margin but it's undergoing the most changes ever since the arrival of the first car radio, the Motorola, a portmanteau of motor and Victrola. Today radio in the car may not even use radio airwaves. But let's get started with one of the new options that does. HD Radio. Contrary to what you may think, it has nothing to do with high definition. It stands for Hybrid Digital, a hybrid of digital and old analog radio. It is also known in the tech community as being IBOC. That means in band and on channel. In band means the same AM or FM bands, or frequencies as you know for analog. On channel means the same channel, or frequency position you've always used for a station. Now with HD radio the main benefit is better sound, AM will sound like FM, FM tends to sound more like a CD. But know that the coverage can be a little brittle. Most radios will go back and forth between HD and have to drop back to analog sometimes. You can also pick up additional stations, HD2, 3, and 4 stations they're calle.d The same radio station, but they operate some additional formats on these additional channels on the same frequency. HD Radio has not approached the popularity of traditional broadcast. Or even satellite radio. [MUSIC] An even less well-known option is FM radio on your phone. Which is normally with you in your car and often integrated into the audio system. But if you've got an FM radio in the dash why would you use one here? Well, because if you use something called the NextRadio app, in conjunction with a phone that has an FM chip, not all do,. You end up with a more visual, rich, searchable form of FM radio. Using Next Radio, you can not only tune FM but also see full tag and album art info as long as the station has entered it. And the newest version of the app does something really cool. You can see what's playing on every participating broadcast station in your area at once. Instead of blindly stabbing at push buttons chasing something you wanna hear. Now the downsides are iPhones don't have enabled FM chips. Obviously, you can't put the app on there. Most of the phones that do have the chip are on Sprint. Very sparse on other carriers. But if you do have that lined up right, the app is free to get and free to use. Now we leave the airwaves and go to Pandora. This of course the big dog among the so-called predictive streaming services. Pandora largely picks the music after you tell it something you like, and of course, you can tell it what songs you really like or really don't like as it plays them, so it learns more. It is by far the leading in car streaming service, showing up today in more dashboards from the factory than any of the other streaming services. Apple CarPlay and Google's Android for Autos also bring up their respective music services in the dash. Connection with your smart phone. Multi systems are real green still and you'll need either a new car, or a new car stereo to get them. Now, iHeart Radio is either an interesting blend or an odd hodge podge, depending on how you look at it. Part pure internet streaming service and part broadcast station streaming service, it rolls up stations from many, but not all ownership groups. Along with a predictive service that is sort of like Pandora. Now, if you're into local broadcasts, but not necessarily your local broadcast, you gotta take a look at tunein. It's known for having 100,000 local stations from all over the world, plus podcasts and some other radio services. Now, these are being streamed using your data. They're not being tuned in over the airwaves, of course. And this app is showing up as a built in option in dash on some cars like Ford, BMW, GM, Mini, and Tesla. And if you just wanna listen to a library of your tracks and playlists, kind of iPod style, you can always tether to a track service on your phone like Google, Amazon, Spotify. And of course, I'm not even mentioning satellite radio which is. So established now, it doesn't really fit in the category of new kinds of radio. You can buy satellite radio add on kits, still, but there are not many out there. It's really about factory install. More car tech demystified right now, on CNETOnCars.com. Click on Car tech 101. [MUSIC]