This Month in Seattle Tech

The Strange Saga of the KUOW Radio Glitch in Mazdas

Even as replacement parts arrive, some mystery remains.

By Benjamin Cassidy February 25, 2022

Hold on to your totes: A truly bizarre episode in the history of public radio, and car technology, may be approaching its end.

The KUOW glitch that’s caused Mazda infotainment systems of a certain age to bug out will be gradually fixed in the coming weeks. Slowed by supply chain delays, replacement Connectivity Master Units (CMUs) are just starting to arrive at dealerships across the region. Mazda of Seattle general manager Chris Reeves, for instance, says an order came in earlier this week. The dealer was in the process of scheduling installation appointments with the 100 or so customers who’d reached out regarding the radio snag.

Earlier this winter, owners of Mazdas from 2014 to 2017 who’d turned their dial to the popular NPR station found themselves stuck in yet another iteration of the Seattle Freeze. As KUOW itself first cheekily reported, drivers couldn’t navigate to any other station. Some, like University of Washington associate professor Jason Yip, suddenly couldn’t navigate to anything on their infotainment screen. Their systems were in a constant state of reboot. “I like KUOW a lot but was like, geez, how did this happen?”

It’s still a bit of a mystery. Mazda USA says that sometime between January 24 and January 31, KUOW transmitted image files sans extensions (missing a “.jpeg” or “.gif,” for instance) that affected Mazdas made between 2014 and 2017 with older software. Yet, KUOW operations director Dane Johnson says the station has not found “any malformed files or an image file without an extension.” The infotainment product’s maker, Xperi, hasn’t either, per Johnson.

Regardless of what caused the breakdown (no, it wasn’t 5G), an entirely new CMU is the solution. Mazda says customers should contact their local dealers and ask them to submit goodwill requests to the carmaker’s warranty department. Dealers will then set up free repair sessions once orders come in.

That’s a relief for Laura Phillips-Mao of Magnolia. Her whole 2014 Mazda3 Hatchback system crashed like Yip’s. When she puts the car in reverse, the screen goes black. It’s a safety issue, she says.

The KUOW devotee has had to resort to a more analog method of backing out. And for keeping herself entertained. “It's a lot of me singing to myself in the car,” she says, “which is not quite as fun."

Let’s hope that supply chain speeds up.

Amazon Delivers a Major Pay Bump to Corporate Workers

Even one of the world’s biggest companies is struggling to keep and attract talent amid a workplace revolution. Citing “a particularly competitive labor market,” Amazon recently vowed to raise its maximum base salary from $160,000 to $350,000 for corporate employees. The e-commerce giant has traditionally depended on vesting stock options to woo workers away from the rest of the Big Five. Now there’s more guaranteed cash coming to engineers and the like.

A Toilet Paper Startup Rolls Deep

In other Bezos-adjacent news: Cloud Paper, producer of tree-free toilet paper, announced that the Amazon founder’s investment company backed the sustainability startup in its latest funding round. Other prominent investors in bamboo TP include Russell Wilson, Ciara, Ashton Kutcher, and Gwyneth Paltrow. All that hoarding must have been good for business.

Bits and Bytes from Microsoft, Uber, and Kimi

Will Microsoft and Expedia’s back-to-office plans stick this time? We’ll see in a few days. Uber drivers don’t like usKimi captures tech’s creep.

Hello! This is monthly column recapping news at the intersection of local tech and culture. Do you know of a Seattle startup doing things that don’t make eyes glaze over at parties? A corporation behaving badly? A developer trying to hack the Mercer light cycle? We’re interestedSend your tips to [email protected] or @bybencassidy on Twitter. DMs are always open.

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