The origins of in-car entertainment are arguable; some say it goes back as far as tickling your horse’s tail in a drawn carriage.
But fact is, the term as we know it now dates back to 1930 when radio first met automobile. From there it’s history. Here’s a look at some notable milestones of the car radio, from the simple AM version in 1930 to today’s integrated infotainment systems that allow near-complete customisation.
1930: Love at First Sight – The radio and automobile meet in 1930, with the Galvin brothers’ in-car radio unit, the first commercially successful car radio installed in an automobile.
1952: Let’s Just Call It FM – Originally dubbed “Frequency Modulation”, FM is introduced by Blaupunkt in 1952, offering an alternative to AM radio.
1964: Enter the Cassette – First introduced in 1964, the cassette tape revolutionises how people listen to music and for the first time gives the individual instead of the DJ the choice of what music to play and when. Enter branded aftermarket cassette-tape players from Alpine to Pioneer in the 1970s.
1984: Standardise and Simplify – German cars adopt a common 180x50mm (DIN) dimension for for radio head units, making it much easier to interchange and upgrade in-car systems. The DIN size later swept across almost all cars’ dashboards and led to a boom in aftermarket car audio systems. It also led to a boom in car audio theft. The modern, stylised dashboards of many cars today, however, will not accept DIN-sized head units.
1985: First Factory-Installed In-Dash CD Player – With the launch of compact discs the previous year, Becker quickly jumps on the opportunity and introduces the first in-dash CD player.
2001: Satellite Radio Goes Live – Satellite radio becomes available in 2001 with American country music star Tim McGraw the first artist heard over its space-cast waves. This system, which is known by the suffix “XM”, is very popular in North America where many cars are capable of receiving the signal. It is not available in South Africa, but many music-starved listeners hope it one day will be.
2007: Users ‘Sync’ Their Smartphones – Automakers begin to offer entertainment systems compatible with content on their iPods, cellphones and more. Many cars today can be linked to personal electronic devices either by way of Bluetooth or hardwire, making the vehicle’s dashboard interface the access point for personal phonebook, music and even video content.
2012: Less is More – Brands such as Chevrolet ditch the CD player in favour of systems like MyLink, which turn the car into an app by integrating smartphone and stored media with the radio.
Chevy’s MyLink system offers access to internet radio services such as Pandora and Stitcher, but is only available in the United States. In South Africa it’s possible to listen to certain internet-broadcast stations in cars from Mini, BMW, Audi and Mercedes via connectivity from your cellphone. - Star Motoring