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PMMR's Corner: The Not So Golden Age of Wireless


We all love to listen to music. If you don’t then I have no idea why you are reading this! And music on the move has become somewhat of a modern-day miracle. We now have an absolute plethora of separate ways in which you can enjoy music whilst out running, walking shopping or in the case of this mild rant, driving.

I have always enjoyed music in my car. I started driving in the eighties when the first thing you did with your new car was buy a radio/cassette and if budgets allowed a couple of decent speakers (I am talking decent then, not now}. The ‘pose’ was to drive down the high street, windows wide open (regardless of weather) with your favourite tunes blasting out the tinny speakers, distorting like mad in the vain hope that someone may find you somehow ‘cool’. It was a tradition. If you were a bit flush you could add a Graphic Equaliser! You would spend all day wiring the thing up and it would sound mildly better than before. It was the way things were done and it was great.

Then slowly but surely the car manufacturers realised that people enjoyed listening to music in their cars. For years they had sold cars with a crappy two speaker radio in them that could be tuned to medium wave or long wave. Eventually they added FM which was a blessing as the other two stopped working around bridges, trees, pigeons and if there was a ‘y’ in the day. FM Stereo was the future and to be fair it served us very well. It came in different formats and cars seemed to be able to ‘hold’ the signal quite well. Radio 1 sounded good in full stereo sound and to be honest we didn’t really want anything else, which is good because there wasn’t much choice. How I miss the lack of choice.

So, Car manufacturers slowly realised that music was needed. In came cassette decks and FM radios. The stereos fitted to the cars were all a standard size (DIN) and some even went as far as to double the size (Double DIN). If the stereo wasn’t to your liking you could swap it. They got more fancy the more you paid and a booming after market scene was fuelled by custom car magazines. Choice was good but mostly the stereo fitted by the factory would suffice.

Then things started to change…

I first saw this in my Vauxhall Astra MK3. It had a little LCD screen above the stereo fitted in the dashboard. When I changed the stereo to fit a Mini-disc player (yes, I was the one who bought it!) the little LCD screen no longer worked. It needed the stereo to work. So, I had a lovely new stereo, but part of my dashboard didn’t work!

Now fast forward a few years. My new car has a ‘built in’ stereo. Its part of the dashboard. It cannot be swapped (without changing the whole dashboard) and the sat nav and everything works through it as well. It’s the last year it will have a CD player apparently and the iPod connection is an afterthought as they believe everyone will be streaming music in the very near future. It sounds great, which is good because the speakers are buried within the dashboard, doors and boot. I couldn’t change anything if I wanted to.

‘This is all good!’ I hear you cry.

But...

How complicated are these things! You need a degree in physics to operate my ‘DAB’ radio, which, regularly loses its signal and refuses point blank to be reprogrammed without stopping the car and working through the myriad of menus. I used to press one of the seven, yes seven, buttons on my old stereo. My current car has fifteen (15) buttons on the dash, a mouse controller near the stupid ‘electronic’ handbrake (separate rant) and as many menus as the 14-year-old who designed the thing could find. It has button which tells me where I am and how many feet above sea level I am! That is a really useful feature! My wifes car is worse still! The radio is in about 4 different places on the dashboard! And the dial that should be the volume is the input selector, the volume is hidden lower down so you can take your eyes off the road for longer!

I just want to listen to music.

I used to put in the cassette, CD or mini disc and it played. No delay just music and I could fast forward, rewind or skip at will until I was happy. Now I need to ‘load’ a CD or ‘sync’ a device before I can even dream of listening to music.

Or I used to listen to the radio. I loved the radio.

I could drive from Skegness to Lands End whilst listening to Radio 1 on FM and probably press the retune button twice on route and it just carried on. If I got fed up I could switch to 1 of 5 selectable channels instantly. No delay, no ‘finding DAB signal 2b’ message. Nothing. Simple and easy.

I press the radio now and I have a plethora of radio shows in different languages, specialising in different music, news, sport, conversation the lot and its confusing. Give me the old 5 channel choice any day of the week. They had to work harder to entertain us as we could just move over to something else, now they are left with listeners who want to swap but cannot figure the bloody radio out!

Things are supposed to get better. We were sold a dream! Now somebody somewhere sort it out!

By Peter Middleton
Author of Behind The Fence & Bound In Time
Follow Peter on Twitter to see his brilliant album of the day series!

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