There is nothing quite like nostalgia. Just when you thought FM radio was headed towards extinction, the technology is being resurrected. How, you may ask? Using the smartphone from which you’re probably reading this article.
It may come as a shock, but a majority of smartphones still have an embedded FM radio chip, including iPhones. The issue is manufactures and carriers have opted to leave them turned off. A standoff against the radio industry has been brewing for years. The U.S. campaign pushing for FM chips to be unlocked has drawn support from major outlets like National Public Radio and American Public Media. Recently, the crusade has made quite a bit of headway.
Sprint was the first carrier to allow customers to use the built-in FM chip. Both AT&T and T-Mobile have stated they will open the capability to customers later this year. Of the big four U.S. carriers, Verizon is the sole hold out.
With the success of the U.S. movement, a campaign has also been launched in Canada. Andrew Garas, a spokesman for Canadian telecom giant Rodgers, has already made statements regarding the matter. ”Enabling FM chips in our smartphone lineup requires the support of the device manufacturers and we’re working with them,” he recently stated.
Of course, that’s the catch for iPhone users. It appears the capability will only be available to Android smartphones, at least for now. As mentioned, both carriers and manufactures need to be on board to allow the capability. At this point, Apple has not agreed to unlock FM chips in iPhones.
Traditional radio has obviously lost quite a bit of footing over the years to on-demand media such as podcasts and streaming music services. However, there are some real benefits to FM radio on smartphones.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. government’s disaster aid agency, recently spoke up advocating for chips to be activated. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate argues radio is a critical means of communication in emergency situations.
He points to Hurricane Sandy from 2012 as a prime example. During the aftermath of the storm, Fugate says carrier overload kept many smartphone users from getting valuable information from cellular devices.
Former director of the National Association of Broadcasters, Jeff Smulyan, is a leading voice on the issue. He recently explained another major benefit of FM radio. “Listening to streaming drains your battery three to five times faster than listening to the exact same content on the FM chip,” he says.
Smulyan also pointed out that large amounts of data are eaten up by streaming media, which is not an issue when using the FM chip. Carriers certainly make lots of money from selling data plans, and charging excessive amounts when you go over. Although carriers have never specifically stated it, one has to assume this is a big reason they resisted for so long. And probably why Verizon is still holding out.
Apple now has a stake in streaming media with Apple Music and Beats One, but hopefully the company will come around and allow the FM chips in iPhones to be unlocked.
Would you use FM radio on your iPhone? Let us know in the comments!