FM vs. iPhone: A Battle of Shaded Truths

Successive rounds of hurricanes battering the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico are the latest fodder in a radio industry campaign designed to pressure smartphone manufacturers to include radio reception capability in their devices.

Many Android-compatible smarphones are capable of receiving FM signals. The radio industry, led by Emmis Communications, has designed an app called NextRadio that functions as an onboard tuner.

Prior elements of this campaign involved running public service announcements letting people know this functionality existed, and low-key advocacy for a possible mandate for FM in smartphones both at the FCC and Congress. Following Hurricane Irma’s destruction, particularly in Florida, broadcasters amped it up.

They took their cue from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who explicitly called out Apple on September 28th to enable FM reception in their phones “to promote public safety.” The next day, the National Association of Broadcasters issued a statement that claimed Apple’s iPhone hardware does indeed contain a chip capable of FM reception, but the company has chosen to disable it; “we encourage Apple to activate this feature on their future handsets so Americans can have access to lifesaving information during emergency situations, something that many local radio stations provide.” Read More

FCC to Congress on Pirate Radio: We Got Nothin’

With little fanfare, the FCC has replied to the Congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey, who are demanding that the agency do something about the proliferation of unlicenesed broadcasters in the New York metropolitan area. At last count, at least three dozen stations are operating in the borough of Brooklyn alone; if you extrapolate that across the five boroughs and add in cities on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, it’s not inconceivable to estimate that as many as 100 pirate stations may be on the air here.

The rising tide of unlicensed broadcast activity in the NYC area — a trend that is several years old now — is exacerbated by the FCC’s utter lack of resources to deal with the issue. Just last month the agency announced a major restructuring of its field enforcement resources, which will result in a net diminution of boots on the ground across the country. In the NYC metroplex, the number of field agents is being increased by one, from four to five people. Although they will be ostensibly be backed up by one of two flying squads of roving agents who will travel the country to enforcement hot-spots (this includes dealing with many issues other than unlicensed broadcasting), it remains to be seen whether this will meaningfully improve the FCC’s overall enforcement abilities. Read More

The Polarization of NextRadio

As industry forces continue to grapple with radio’s digital transition, the medium’s push for renewed portability got a bit more complicated this summer. Not much of a surprise that the discourse surrounding the NextRadio app mimics similar forays into the new: lovers and haters lining up with little air to breathe between them.

The latest developments began with the launch last month of Free Radio On My Phone, a public-awareness campaign for enabling FM reception in smartphones. The campaign is a joint project of NextRadio, the National Association of Broadcasters, National Public Radio, American Public Radio, and the Educational Media Foundation—all heavy-hitters in commercial, public, and religious broadcasting. EMF has also agreed to sign its entire station-roster up for enhanced NextRadio services. Read More

HD Radio in 2014: More Baby Steps—Toward What?

As the year rolled over, a variety of news-bits came out about the state of HD Radio in the United States.

Moving On: HD Radio’s now been around for a quarter-century. The initial development of the in-band, on-channel (IBOC) protocol that constitutes HD broadcasting first began as a science project under the auspices of Westinghouse in 1989. It’s been a long, strange trip since then: overpromising, underdelivering, crash-development, and finally a "workable" protocol. This process has constituted a career for some people—one of whom is now tending greener pastures. Read More

Firming the Foundation for an All-Digital AM Mandate

The quiet collection of "evidence" on which to justify an all-digital HD Radio mandate for AM stations continues.

After some stealth experimentation on a CBS station in Charlotte, North Carolina late last year, there’s word of two other AM stations in the state conducting all-digital broadcast-tests this summer. The guinea pigs were WBT, a 50,000-watt station owned by Greater Media (also in Charlotte) and WNCT, a 50,000-watt (day)/10,000-watt (night) Beasley Broadcast-owned AM station in Greenville.

WBT secured experimental authorization from the FCC to conduct these tests just two weeks before they took place; WNCT also asked for fast-track authority less than a month before its all-digital broadcasts. Read More