That New Car Smell

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

My car failed the Ontario provincial emissions test. It was time for a new one. After driving it for 10 years it’s not like I didn’t get my money’s worth out of it. Off I went to the dealerships and finally settled on a replacement vehicle that should do me for the next few years at least. It got me thinking back, though, to how much things have changed since I drove off the lot with my last car. We all know how quickly technology progresses these days, but like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, sometimes the changes can really hit you. That’s the feeling I got when taking possession of my new car.

My previous vehicle was by no means a sled. It was, for its time, a shining example of fine Bavarian engineering. It also came with almost all the options available to that point. But to illustrate how far things have come, let’s do a little comparing.

In 2001, many cars still had cassette players in them. For younger readers, a cassette was a really bad storage medium for music – we’ll leave it at that. Now, I considered myself far too ahead of the curve to settle for a cassette deck. Instead my AM/FM stereo had a front-load CD player. I could have added the optional 6-CD changer that went in your trunk, but as a radio guy I figured I wouldn’t use the CD player much anyway. It did come in handy, though, when listening to talent, which was increasingly sending auditions in that format.

A few things simply weren’t available when I bought that car. For instance, a 1/8 inch jack to plug in an mp3 player was not on anyone’s radar. There were mp3 players on the market, but the iPod, which is almost solely responsible for the ubiquity of such devices that we largely take for granted these days, was still months away from being unveiled. As such, I went through the decade in the digital Dark Age (whenever I got in my car, that is).

My new car also has a CD player in it, although it sits behind the front touch screen and if I want to load one, the whole thing slides forward an tilts down to allow me to do so – it’s pretty cool. I haven’t used the CD player yet… not sure when I will.

That 1/8 inch jack I mentioned before is right out front and if I want, I can plug my iPhone into it and play my music to my heart’s content. I haven’t, though. My new ‘stereo’ (forgive the outdated term) also has a 30 gig hard drive, which by today’s standards is quite modest, but if all you’re loading is audio, is still big enough to easily put a couple thousand tracks onto it… even at a decent bit rate.

Satellite radio launched in the US the year I bought my previous car. It would be 4 more years until that service was available in Canada. I obviously didn’t have satellite radio. I had it at home as part of my job, but again, things darkened whenever I got behind the wheel.

Satellite is standard now in just about all makes of cars. It’s no different in mine. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve taken some pretty good swipes at satellite over the years, but that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate having it in a vehicle. As a news junkie, I like having CNN, the BBC, etc. available to me as I drive. The live sports coverage is also great, and I can even indulge my guilty Howard pleasure from time to time.

A GPS system was an option for my old car. However, it was outrageously priced and simply not in the cards for me at the time. I did end up buying a windshield-mounted Garmin GPS system a few years back. It was finally a chance to get rid of my “Wrong Way Diamond” reputation. It should be noted that I’m probably the only person in Canada that can still get lost with a GPS (sigh).

My new car has a built-in GPS as part of the “Entertainment System” (the new terminology) and it’s a Garmin – something I know how to use! I still get lost with it, but it’s built-in! And it’s a Garmin!

Another option that I could have had in my old car was a cell phone hookup operated off the steering wheel. Again, though, it was much too expensive to consider seriously. In 2001, some people had flip phones (I remember the one from Motorola being all the rage), but most of us still had cell phones that came in handy in a bar fight. Saying cell usage has exploded in the last 10 years would be a gross understatement. Today, people who spend a fair amount of time on the road really need hands-free capability in their vehicle.

This is another option that came as part of my “Entertainment System.” A call comes in, I press a button, and I talk. If I need to make a call, I just give a voice-command like “Call Chris at work.” and it does the rest. Get this, if I get a text, it’ll read it for me – damn cool! The whole thing is pretty slick, but more importantly it’s safe and lets me stay on the right side of the law.

I know many readers by now will be thinking “Welcome to the 21st century, Greg.” It’s hard to argue with that. Look, I’m a self-professed tech-geek, complete with pocket-protector and propeller-beanie and I’ve been an early-adopter and have worked with all this technology as, if for no other reason, a simple function of my occupation. It’s just been pleasantly surprising bringing it all together and playing with it while on the QEW (in a responsible, hands-free manner, of course), after 10 years of not being able to.

There’s a bunch of other things in my new car that make driving more enjoyable, but I really don’t want you to feel as though I’m boasting here. The fact is, my new car cost about half what my last one did a decade ago, which really speaks to the far greater access we all have to things that were once out reach for many of us.

The same thing goes for radio and all the different options people have to either access it or ignore it.

Cell phones, mp3 players, iPhones/iPads, Twitter, Facebook, gaming, etc. are just a few of the many technological avenues people now have at their disposal. Can you imagine what will be available in another 10 years? Me neither, but I can tell you there will be more… lots more.

Radio is considered by many to be ‘old tech’. You can’t argue that the medium has existed for a very long time, but ‘old tech’ carries a dismissive connotation that’s pure bunk. Radio is old, but radio is still valid. If we continue to play to our strengths, we’ll remain a viable choice for years to come. If you can keep your station local, and by that I mean beyond just reading event liners, and instead delving into properly-targeted local issues and topics that can change daily, then you will remain valid. If you continue to find and nurture (and fairly compensate) entertaining and engaging personalities, then you will remain valid. If you enlist the services of third party sources to ensure the music you play is what the audience desires and your airstaff are performing at their best, then you will remain valid. If you continue to adopt and take advantage of all the new ways to reach out and communicate with your listeners, then you will remain valid.

In other words, we need to do what has always made us successful, but what is different is that our margin for error has decreased and will continue doing so as more and more new technologies compete for a person’s attention. So, keep doing it, but strive to do it better… every single day.

Oh yeah. One last thing. New cars smell goooood!