Citizens want radio-receiving cell phones


The NAB was excited by a new Harris Interactive poll that showed support for terrestrial radio capability in cell phones is picking up. 81% would consider paying the small fee for a chip to make their phone radio-capable.

“The results of this survey demonstrate again a significant and growing demand for radio-capable cell phones in the U.S.,” said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton. “We’re hopeful that as demand for this capability becomes more apparent, wireless carriers will voluntarily offer this feature or activate radio chips already in their devices. Radio-enabled cellphones are a standard feature in much of Europe and Asia. From a public safety perspective alone, there is a strong case to be made for wireless carriers to also voluntarily activate radio chips in cellphones in the U.S.”

NAB used the occasion to recall the words of former FCC Michael Copps, who after a series of weather emergencies in 2011 commented, “We share a duty to think creatively about how we can arm consumers with additional ways to communicate during disasters…I think the time is here for a thorough, calm and reasoned discussion about FM chips in handsets.”

NAB highlighted several data points:

* Eighty-one percent of cell phone owners would consider paying a one-time only fee of 30 cents (the approximate cost of a microchip) to access local radio stations through a built-in radio chip, compared to 76 percent in 2010. For cell phone owners with children in the home, the number was 85 percent, up from 79 percent in 2010. The percentage of retirees who favor radio chips in cellphones rose to 76 percent from 66 percent in 2010.

* Local weather and music are the top two reasons survey participants would listen to their local stations on their cell phones.

* Seven out of 10 cell phone owners, 69 percent compared to 73 percent in 2010, indicated that having a radio built into their cell phone, capable of providing local weather and emergency alerts in real-time, would be “very” or “somewhat” important. The number was higher – nearly eight out of 10 adults, 78 percent – for those with children in the home.

* Three-quarters (76 percent) of U.S. adults, would use a radio built into their cell phone, up from 66 percent in 2010. Younger adults are even more likely to use such a feature. Eighty-six percent of 18-34 year olds, as well as 81 percent of single and never-married adults (up from 71 percent and 73 percent respectfully in 2010), indicated they would use a built-in radio to listen to local stations if their phone was equipped to do so without using mobile apps or their wireless provider’s data plan.

“Like in 2010, this survey again shows that a strong majority of American cell phone owners would use a radio built into their cell phone,” said Regina A. Corso, SVP Harris Poll, Harris Interactive. “Particularly in this day of ever-rising wireless data fees, four in five cell phone owners would pay a small one-time fee to access local radio programming.”

RBR-TVBR observation: There is a public interest angle to making radio-on-cell widely available, not to mention a spectrum-efficiency angle. The federal government should be encouraging this as best it can.


  1. Consumers said they wanted a healthy burger as in the McLean Deluxe from McDonald’s. But they lied and McDonald’s didn’t sell many McLean’s. FM built in cell phones isn’t a new idea and it’s been done before, so why don’t we let the marketplace decide what works.

  2. As someone who grew up with shirt pocket sized cheap Japanese transistor radios, the bad boy geek toy of the times, smuggled into school to hear Cousin Brucie and NY Mets games; I am amazed that this is even an issue. Back in the early days of the iPod when I was working for consumer electronics retailer Good Guys!, I used to joke around the store holding the iPod up to my ear saying “Hello, Hello? — Steve Jobs? Why isn’t there a telephone in my MP3 player? It’s the perfect form factor!” Likewise you have to wonder why for a few pennies each there can’t be an AM/FM radio in every smart phone, could it be someone wants you to stream more media and pay through the nose for exceeding your monthly data plan?

  3. FWIW-my Droid X, on VZW, already has an FM tuner built in. The only problem with it is that you have to plug in a headset for it to work. It uses the cord of the headset as an antenna, and putting an FM broadcast antenna in a cell phone is tough-at least one that works. But it otherwise works fine, and it was free.
    (I fully expect that it’s software, no hardware added. With Software-defined radio, which most cell phones are now anyway, it’s just a matter of writing the right software code.)

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