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What's the story, morning radio?

So why is Digital Radio in cars so behind the times?

I mean, if you have a look for digital radios there are plenty of nice units for sale for use in your house. Little speakers, pull up the antenna, cute lunch box size. Perfect for that Sunday morning radio time with the paper and a croissant. But where are the radios in the car?

Today’s discussion is thus: if Digital Radio really wants to be successful in Australia, why are the choices of Digital Radios for cars so limited?

Just take this scenario. Recently, a colleague bought a brand new soft-roader. Now don’t get me started on soft-roaders (what ever happened to the family wagon anyway?) but it comes with a pretty trick navigation and audio (“entertainment”) system. Plenty of advances in those technologies over the years. But Digital Radio? Nope. DAB+? What is that?

The thing is, if Digital Radio wants to take off, it’s all about the use of digital radio in the car in the morning, during those drive time shows… Yes people will still want to call up during talk-back shows and the choice of stations is really very immense… and if we ignore the head-fi and audiophile groups just for one moment, the quality isn’t bad either. (note for audiophiles, they wouldn’t be caught dead listening to FM anyway).

So you are in the market for a digital radio, and it seems one of the barriers of entry is a new antenna. Putting proper antennas on a car from the factory was never an issue for mobile phones (built-in mid-90’s phones in executive saloons is mega cool these days) or for GPS (everyone has seen those dorsal fin antennas and they do add to the whole appeal of the roof line). But how about installing a digital radio antenna - as standard - on all cars? Nope.

Having a quick browse of the shops for car head units with digital radios enabled is somewhat puzzling. Typical brands such as Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony all have DAB+ enabled radios. So they DO exist. But they aren’t as common as you would think. They are also often on upper market radios touted as great features that everyone should aspire to.

But hold just a minute. What is this DAB+ thing anyway?

In Australia, Digital Radio has adopted the DAB+ standard, which is OK because the UK is the same.

So at least we aren’t all alone on this matter.

Outside us though, it looks like there are other competing standards, which makes it difficult for manufacturers to cover all markets cost effectively.

So basically the consumer loses out because someone can’t decide which global standard to use… we get FM radios in cars (which feels rather dated if I must say) and will have to make do with exactly that.

So what can we do?

Run out there and buy a DAB+ radio for your car from a limited selection of car radios, only to discover it needs a new powered antenna to pick up the signal.

So then you go buy that, stick it to the underside of your windscreen, route the cable around the car in a neat fashion and then enjoy the multitude of channels that digital radio provides.

Well that’s my plan, anyway. I want to support digital radio and there are some sacrifices that have to be made.