Sunday, June 04, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 14, 1444 H
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Turn the radio on...

Car radios are not given much thought. It is like old furniture. It is there and no one notices it until it is no longer useful or needs to be replaced

Driving from Ruwi to Al Khoudh in Muscat is so much more interesting when there is a nice programme to listen to or a good soundtrack playing on the local radio. But driving from Muscat to the country’s interior is tedious due to signal transmission — then, optional resources are needed to make the trip interesting and relaxed. That is when it comes to how we listen to music and the devices used in the car.

Car radios are not given much thought. It is like old furniture. It is there and no one notices it until it is no longer useful or needs to be replaced. It is, after all, 98 years old. Nonetheless, we have to appreciate the evolution of the car radio — it is part of car accessories and it has changed considerably over time.

In-car entertainment is media. The variety of music and pastimes available while driving is vast thanks to streaming services, Internet radio and podcasts. Most of the time, after getting into a car and fastening the seat belt, the next thing is to reach for some entertainment: Call a friend, listen to music, or listen to the news. My favourite pastime now is listening to classic music on the local radio station. Had other preferences in the past, but the changes in programming prompted me to turn to the classic music station — it is more enriching.

History can be boring, but if I want to make the best of my sound system while driving, it is worth spending time learning about it. The car radio was introduced in the 1930s, but it took enthusiasts nearly a decade to figure out how to integrate radio into cars. In early 1920s, some young people had played with the idea of installing radio into a car. Creativity and thinking out of the box worked wonderfully. It took two decades of AM broadcasts and in 1952, the first AM/FM head unit was sold.

People’s reactions — history says, while many drivers embraced the new sounds in their vehicles, others were up in arms about the dangers they presented. Does it sound familiar? People called the car radio a ‘dangerous distraction’; those in favour, pointed out that the radio could be useful in warning drivers about bad weather.

Developments always raise concerns and questions about the continued existence of old models. After all, fear of the unknown is a tendency to be afraid of something we have no information about. Who would want to listen to the radio when they can watch television? Who would want to listen to the radio when the Internet is widely available? Academics raised these questions when investigating the survival of radio as a channel of communication. Tech-savvy go-getters had a better imagination. Radio not only survived but advanced in sophistication.

Innovation and technology are changing the way radio works by integrating cost-effective broadcast distribution with online features such as portals and mobile applications; radio has entered the 21st Century. It is not just the sophistication of entertainment systems in today’s cars. Another area of radio and the automobile industry is car audio system design, which takes into account obstacles such as vibration, heat, wind, road noise, glass and leather. Excellent opportunities exist for car audio designers.

Cutting-edge in-car entertainment is no longer a luxury. Can you think of a car without a radio? The emphasis then shifts to human talent. Who wants to listen to someone boring or pompous? Keeping an ear to the ground and in touch with the community is capitalising on the end-user: The listener. Despite digital trends and technological advancements, local radio remains the best media deal. Radio is an emotional multiplier. You travel with me. You come into my house.

The writer is a journalist, academic, researcher of media studies

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