Blog Post

Poll: Should FM Radios Be Mandatory in All Phones?

As the entertainment industries move from an analog to a digital world, traditional media outlets continue to scramble to regain lost revenues. A perfect case in point are radio stations, who run the risk of losing listeners due to rising sales of both MP3 players and smartphones, which are becoming miniature home theaters. Some portable devices currently integrate FM radios, but if the National Association of Broadcasters has any say in the matter, it could become a legal mandate to include FM radios in all future cell-phones.

Several sides to this argument jump out at me. For one, I doubt handset makers want to be told by the U.S. government what hardware features they must require in every device. From the NAB’s point of view, adding FM radios to every new phone could help offset the risk of lost listeners because consumers might actually tune in to radio again. Based on potential listener growth, the radio industry is willing to pay a tiered royalty rate of up to 1 percent of total revenues in return for the FM radio mandate. Another great point is brought up at Gotta Be Mobile: in times of emergency or widespread power outages, FM radio holds up better and can broadcast farther than cellular networks when it comes to getting information to the masses.

Although emergency situations are a good reason to have an FM radio handy, I’m inclined to side with Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, who says, “We don’t think Congress should accept a back-room deal on how an iPhone (s aapl) should be designed.” I might feel differently if I didn’t have an emergency radio, but a few years ago I purchased a unit from Eton that supports multiple radio bands, has an emergency light and can be hand-cranked for power.

[polldaddy poll=3650471]

Even if I didn’t have my backup radio, I’m not sold on government-legislated hardware features in phones, although if such a law does pass, I’d like to see it require an HD Radio tuner, like that in Microsoft’s (s msft) Zune HD. Such tuners pull in high quality digital audio in addition to regular FM radio broadcasts, offering a great end-user experience. If we have to have the FM radio, we might as well enjoy it.

The arguments for and against legislating hardware features are complex — and it ultimately has to do with lobbying efforts and money — but let’s keep it simple with a poll before the weekend:

Should FM radios be required in cell-phones or should the government simply tune-out of this argument?

Related GigaOM Pro Research (subscription required):

Forget Syncing, Let’s Put Music in the Cloud!

15 Responses to “Poll: Should FM Radios Be Mandatory in All Phones?”

  1. Jason Sooter

    What a lame attempt by broadcasters to try and keep their lame way of providing music alive. Lets see MP3’s I choose or a radio station that plays the same few songs over and over every day interrupted by an annoying dj that has an IQ of 2 talking about subjects only interesting to 7 year olds? Boy, I sure hope they mandate FM radios in phones and anything else they can……

  2. Indu Das

    I will love to see FM tuner in a smartphone. somehow never liked the the internet based FM station.
    But thinking logically, not sure if a federal mandate is required.

  3. I agree that legislation shouldn’t mandate FM receivers, but why all the hate for FM? College stations, regular traffic reports (AM) and depending on your political leanings, NPR or talk radio, still make FM a viable option that I find incredibly useful in the car and alarm clock.

    You can stream FM stations, but it’s still not instant on like a radio (yet).

  4. Infinity Broadcasting, Clear Channel and all the other corporate giants have wanted to force feed us commercials for years. The people voted no on that. Why do we want them now?

  5. Rick Thomchick

    Given the fact that I already listen to most of my favorite FM radio stations via their Internet streams, I am struggling to see the benefit of having an FM tuner on my phone.

  6. A poll, Kevin? Where do I vote?
    But if you want comments…
    The smartphone is only a few years away from being a standard piece of hardware that every adult and most children in the US have in their possession — and they require a government regulated airspace to function properly. So I think we would benefit from having the ability to tune into all emergency broadcast frequencies.

    And yes, this is a play by the NAB to protect a very well protected group (radio) that actually now has competition. I may not want to do them any favors but we should have some sort of mandated ability to receive emergency broadcasts.

  7. If access to emergency radio radio broadcasts is the justification for requiring radio receivers in cell phones, why wouldn’t AM be the requirement, and not FM?

  8. No. If you can’t use a radio at home because of a power outage, you can always get in your car, turn on the engine and listen there.

    I’d much rather see the government mandate that all phones have both CDMA and GSM so that you can easily move your device from one provider to another. That ain’t gonna happen either.

  9. Are we OUT of our MINDS?

    Why does this even come up? The govt can mandate FM radios in devices? Have we lost all sense of proportion? If they can do this, is there anything at all government can’t do, mandate, pass a law on? By what authority? Has corruption completely taken over? Have we given up even arguing against this kind of misuse of govt power? Do you love lobbies?

    • No matter how you come done on the issue, the government can mandate requirements for cell phones and all ready does. All cell phones sold in the U.S. must be approved by the FCC. It would be a simple matter for the FCC to add a radio tuner to the certification requirements.

  10. “I’m not sold on government-legislated hardware features in phones”

    Is this what we’re down to, a weak “I’m not sold” when faced by a dying industry making an outrageous demand for government-mandated support for it’s product by other industries? Why not mandate an FM radio in every shoe made, or every lamp made? It isn’t the function of government to mandate support for any consumer product or feature. This is absolutely none of the government’s business.

  11. Akupara

    I’d rather see an AM radio, but not by mandate. FM has nothing for me. In addition to the several radios in my house and cars, my cell phone and mp3 player both have FM receivers that I never use. More intelligent and diverse content would help, but for now I see no reason to force the inclusion of such a useless feature.

  12. There is something I have always disliked about having a radio built into a mobile device since it was first made available in the 90’s. I didn’t think that there was a call for it today, but a friend of mine who is a landscape gardener would love the ability to listen to the radio on his iPhone. The apps he has downloaded to use with the 3G just don’t work as well he would like due to poor streaming in bad service areas.

    In an emergency the first place people would turn to would be the internet and twitter, if that was not available then there would always be somewhere that you could tune in, like your car? The radio is never going to go away, I just don’t think that you need to have one on your mobile device.