AT&T moves toward FM reception in its smartphones

nextradio canvasIn an unexpected announcement by NextRadio that will be greeted warmly by all advocates of FM reception in smartphones, AT&T has added FM chip activation to the specification list that it gives OEM phone makers. This development carries a hopeful message to Emmis-owned NextRadio, and the stations which participate in that app.

“This is a big day for the changing face of radio.” –NextRadio memo to participating radio stations

Adding FM reception to a spec sheet does not immediately mean that AT&T phones will receive radio stations over the air. There is delay and some uncertainty built into this announcement:

  • OEMs must decide to adopt that particular specification. The specification is a request from AT&T to its phone makers. FM chips exist in AT&T phones now, but they are unactivated and useless. The ideal scenario, in NextRadio’s viewpoint, is for all phones sold by AT&T to have activated chips.
  • The ideal scenario would take time. In a memo to member stations, NextRadio expressed hope that some activated Android phones would be in the market by the end of 2015.

NextRadio is a mobile app available on selected phones, in partnership with carriers which have successfully produced phones with activated FM chips. Sprint is NextRadio’s biggest partner. The app is an over-the-air FM tuner powered by a programming back end called Tagstation, which radio stations use to add enhanced interactivity to the station signal. As of July 6, NextRadio has been downloaded 3.2-million times, and 12,000 radio stations have been tuned through the app, delivering six-million hours of listening.

In its memo to stations, NextRadio said it would be working directly with OEMs of AT&T phones to adopt the FM-activation spec.

Besides being a positive harbinger for NextRadio, activated FM chips seem like a good idea generally. They exist in the phones anyway, harking back to pre-iPod days when MP3 players (the dominant digital mobile devices of the time) did commonly include FM reception. Whether users tune in via NextRadio or other FM receiver apps that might arise, there is no reason not to enable radio in smartphones.

Brad Hill

One Comment

  1. I did not think the phone companies would cave in so quickly. But as the owner of an Internet station, I am not too concerned as long as NextRadio features primarily stations with 300 song playlists and 6 minute commercial breaks. Their listeners have long since switched to more creative offerings provided by Internet stations.

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