Sprint to activate FM radio chip on smartphones (open for comments)


WG Editor

On the opening day of the big Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Sprint announced a preliminary arrangement with representatives of the American radio industry that will enable Sprint customers to listen to local FM radio stations from a broad spectrum of radio companies and aggregators on select Android and Windows smartphones during the next three years. FM radio could be delivered through the NextRadio tuner application or other radio apps or services.

“This is a great development for the radio industry, one which will help us bring the content and services that only radio can provide to the wireless system. It’s an important benefit for consumers across America, and we are pleased to participate in this effort.”

This announcement marks the first time a U.S. wireless carrier would offer the ability to access local FM radio on a broad array of its devices. Consumers today can listen to radio on smartphones by streaming over the Internet. As part of this plan, Sprint customers could use their smartphones and the NextRadio tuner to listen to local FM radio stations.

With the NextRadio tuner – expected to be available later in 2013 – Sprint customers would enjoy a wide range of interactive listener features not available today and would have the availability of local FM radio at their fingertips to access all forms of broadcast information.

Here is an thoughtful response from Radio Ink Publisher Eric Rhoads (with permission):

Why Sprint’s Adding Radio On Smartphones Matters
A message from Radio Ink Publisher Eric Rhoads

Yesterday while I was sitting at my desk, my cell phone made an alert noise (even though the volume was turned down) and an Amber Alert flashed on the screen. That reminded me of the need to put radio on mobile phones, not only so radio can entertain, but so alerts can go out to phones even when cell towers are down or not functioning, as during Hurricane Sandy.

Coincidentally, Ed Ryan yesterday broke the story that Sprint had announced that several models of Android and Windows smartphones will be enabled over the next few years with FM radio chips and the NextRadio platform, developed by Emmis Communications.

Though Sprint has already had offered some phones with FM chips in the past (I had it on my HTC Evo two years ago), this is the first time FM will be offered on a wide variety of devices.

Why is this a big deal? As I have written in the past, radio transmitters work when the power is down and when cell phone towers are not working. An FM chip can send emergency messages to all enabled phones during a storm, a power outage, or a national emergency. The cell companies can’t do that without placing expensive generator plants at all cell tower locations, a virtual impossibility.

Additionally, some claim the carriers cannot possibly keep up with ever-growing bandwidth consumption, and this will allow radio listening on a phone without the need for streaming. Phones may soon be able to transparently switch between streaming and a local radio signal, saving both bandwidth and battery life.

Radio’s big win here is that now we have expanded our potential reach. We’re in 100 percent of cars and now on more smartphones. Though it’s only Sprint so far among the major carriers and won’t include Apple devices, this sends a giant pro-radio signal to the marketplace, offering Sprint a competitive advantage until others catch up. After all, radio listening remains strong, and we will see increases in listening with the convenience of a radio in the pocket.

Will others follow? Hard to tell, but this is great news and a giant leap for radio, thanks to the leadership of Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan, who has made this his top mission for the industry.

Last year Radio Ink and Dick Orkin’s Radio Ranch made radio spots available to put pressure on wireless providers and consumer electronics manufacturers to offer radio in cell phones. Many stations are still running these spots, and they continue to be available here.

Though the battle to be on all mobile phones continues to be a lofty goal, congratulations are in order to Jeff Smulyan and his team.

Eric Rhoads