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Old-fashioned Tuner Designs Must Evolve

Tuning for tunes should be easier in this age of satellite radio.

Forget about teenagers downloading pirated songs free from the Internet, it may be the auto makers that are killing the music industry’s profits.

Satellite and high-definition radio now make hundreds of stations available, but antiquated user interfaces and poorly placed tuning knobs don’t allow drivers to sample much of the musical bounty, at least while driving.

Accessing channel presets is simple on most vehicles. But not everyone is stuck in a musical rut.

Let’s say a driver is on a long trip and gets the urge to channel surf for something hard to find, such as classic deep cuts from the 1980s hair band Poison.

If “Hair Nation,” channel 23 on Sirius Satellite Radio and channel 41 on XM Satellite Radio, is not delivering the goods, what’s a music connoisseur to do?

Most vehicles require driving with one hand and reaching halfway across the car with the other to turn a little tuning knob or push a dinky scan button.

A driver can spend untold minutes in this awkward position scrolling through dozens of stations just to find one decent glam-rock power ballad.

Yes, “every rose has its thorn,” but that does not mean we should tolerate ergonomic designs that have not changed since Poison turned the cliche into a No.1 hit in 1988.

Too many of the new or refreshed vehicles that Ward’s 10 Best Interiors judges drove this year contained a tune knob/button so far afield it might as well have been in Mexico.

Examples include the Honda Odyssey and Kia Sportage. The Dodge Journey has a virtual radio tuner, but it also is a stretch for the driver.

Thankfully, some interior designers have figured out a better way for drivers to manually scan the hundreds of infotainment choices now available in many vehicles.

For this reason, I bestow Audi with my personal “Best Radio-Controller Placement” award for the thumbwheel on the A8’s steering wheel.

This simple little roller allows the driver to scroll through a multitude of channels without taking hands off the wheel. It’s easy to reach and simple to use.

Ironically, Audi doesn’t need the thumbwheel because the control knob for the car’s human-machine interface also can scan stations and is conveniently located. It sits near the driver on the lower center stack.

Still, it’s nice to know at least one auto maker is not standing in the way of drivers enjoying everything available over the air waves, even 1980s hair bands.

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