The connected car remains one of the radio industry’s ongoing audio battlegrounds, and the debate continues regarding both the challenges and opportunities for the dashboard of the future. Now, the National Association of Broadcasters is working on initiatives to strengthen radio’s relationship with the automotive business, and ways to affect positive change in the car that benefits traditional radio.

Among them is the newly released NAB Digital Dashboard Best Practices Report, which was produced with Jacobs Media and radio engineer Glynn Walden.

The project involved Jacobs conducting real-time audits of FM radio dashboard displays in three U.S. markets: Grand Rapids, Philadelphia and Charlotte. “In each market, we used two cars, one equipped with RDS [Radio Data System] and the other with HD Radio with the Artist Experience feature,” explains Fred Jacobs, president and founder at Jacobs Media on the company’s blog. The report discusses the areas that broadcasters need to focus on to improve the consumer experience with radio in the car.

“We started at ‘88’ and worked our way up to ‘108’ recording the results of how each station’s dashboard displayed,” Jacobs says. “Once the metadata populated, we hit ‘seek’ and the tuner took us to the next station.” The results, he shares, were “spotty at best. From station to station in all three markets, the quality of displays was inconsistent, sometimes erratic, and far from standardized. This is in contrast to how radio’s competitors look in the dashboard display,” including Pandora, Spotify, satellite radio and personal music collections. “Across the board, they are uniform, accurate and almost always attractive.”

For the broadcasting industry, the team also released an abbreviated Digital Dashboard Recommended Best Practices, which is accessible to all via PDF. First and foremost, the document states, is the importance of having RDS equipment set up. If not, obtain an RDS encoder and set it up to support transmission of station information using Program Service (PS) and RadioText (RT) fields. For HD Radio stations, both RDS and HD Radio displays need to be monitored by station staff.

From there, it’s about creating an industry-wide standard. For example, “for music stations, song titles and artist fields should maintain the artist name and song title, without metadata notes (ex: “edited version”). Artists should be expressed as first name, last name. Capitalization of proper nouns (artist, song), but no all caps for entire words.”

For spoken word stations and/or personality/programs/shows on music stations, the following standards are recommended: “During programs, display text with name of show, and with HD Radio, a graphic logo. Use capitalization standards as specified above for music stations. Other content display options include a program topic, guest or call-in number. Stations might also want to consider additional enhancements such as weather, traffic alerts and sports scores.”

And for HD Radio systems, “album artwork is optimal; artist photos are acceptable. Generic format artwork/graphics are discouraged. The station logo should be the default.”

The Best Practices Summary also recommends that programming and engineering staff should conduct a quarterly audit of dashboard displays, “using vehicles with both RDS and HD Radio with Artist Experience receivers, observing and rating your station’s metadata appearance for both RDS and HD Radio.”

On his blog, Jacobs laments that, “our auditing process left us with the feeling that many broadcasters set up their dashboard display systems years and years ago, often by past regimes and owners. Chances are programmers weren’t even involved in a strategic conversation about a station’s look and feel on the screen. Most of the PDs I’ve talked to over the past several months weren’t even aware of the control a station has over how it looks and feels on car screens.”

He adds: “On the local level, in markets big and small, any station can evaluate its dashboard display—and improve it. And that’s important. For the broadcast radio industry to provide a consistently pleasing user experience for drivers in radio’s No. 1 listening location, it has to provide a consistent, appealing display.”

Jacobs stresses, “We no longer have a monopoly on that prime dashboard real estate. The days of two knobs and six presets aren’t coming back. Radio’s place in the car has never been as important as it is right now today.”