In long-ago days, before the Big Bang of Apple’s entrance into the music-hardware business, portable mp3 players were often equipped with FM receivers. In fact, the RAIN editorial office has one of those vintage devices in its museum, right … over … here. It is a Sandisk Sansa e280, optimized for the Rhapsody music service, and featuring FM reception as a standard listening option.
When Apple introduced the original iPod, the lack of FM reception was one way in which the breakthrough device was inferior to competitors, even as it achieved paramount success in the market. Because of that success, FM radio dropped off the standard spec sheet of mobile music devices. (Sandisk still includes it in recently-built Rhapsody portables. We’ve got one of them, too.)
Today, “mobile” means smartphone, and the smartphone category competes brutally with radio for listening hours. It also accommodates radio neatly by enabling station webcasts, aggregated in countless apps, the highest-profile of which are iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The advantage to webcast radio is the global reach; the disadvantages are data consumption, battery consumption, and compressed audio quality.
Purportedly to solve those disadvantages, but really to encourage local radio tuning and find new pipes for its signal, Emmis-developed NextRadio seeks to put over-the-air listening back into handheld devices. NextRadio is a mobile app that works in specially equipped phones. It launched in two Sprint models this summer (RAIN coverage here).
Last Friday, NextRadio hit the ground running in Sprint’s Galaxy Note 3, the first phone brought to market with the app available from the start. As such, it provides a clean baseline to measure adoption, and the NextRadio blog lauds “exponential” uptake — which means 40,000 app downloads, and 12,000 listening hours spread across 4,000 FM stations.
A few weeks ago, David Pogue, the New York Times tech columnist, hosted a panel during Advertising Week during which he called Next Radio “the dumbest idea ever.” In a modern context, with the easy availability of global webcasts and celestial jukeboxes comprising 30-million tracks, it’s easy to understand the sentiment. Massive adoption is difficult to imagine, but we’re glad to see the return of over-the-air FM to the interactive listening menu, if only for old time’s sake.