Smulyan Bites At Apple, Concerned About Connected Car


When it comes to the future of the radio broadcasting industry, access to stations is paramount. For Emmis Communications CEO and founder Jeff Smulyan, that means being accessible in the one electronic device used more than any other on a daily basis: the smartphone.

It also means being front and center in the soon-to-arrive “connected car,” Smulyan said Wednesday during a Hispanic Radio Conference interview conducted by RBR+TVBR Editor-in-Chief Adam R Jacobson.

The NextRadio app, developed by Emmis subsidiary TagStation LLC as the key tool for “unlocking” an FM chip in the smartphone, dominated the conversation. With the session devoted to “securing your station’s smartphone space,” Smulyan — like he has done in the recent past — took aim at Apple for failing to manufacture hand-held devices capable of receiving FM signals.

He said, “NextRadio is on just about every Android phone. We don’t have Apple and that’s our last mission.”

Why has Apple been less than willing to bring FM radio to its iPhones or other iOs-powered devices? When you have $325 billion in the back like Apple, he said, you don’t have to listen to a lot of external people, he said. Smulyan added that Apple’s decision to purchase Beats Music had a significant impact on how Apple views radio.

“With NextRadio, music is free,” Smulyan said. “They are worried consumers won’t spend $10 per month if the music is free. They are going to stonewall us as long as they can. That’s why we have to get our listeners to push it.”

It was then suggested that Hispanic radio leaders unite in contacting their Members of Congress to push Washington to act, and further persuade Apple to make a move FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has supported — so long as the Federal government does not mandate what should be left for the free market to decide.

For Smulyan, Apple won’t likely budge until it is forced to. “It boils down to money,” he said. “When enough people say enough is enough, things will change.”

Smulyan was also asked by Jacobson about the future of in-dash audio entertainment, and the coming presence of an embedded tuner that may appear to the driver as a simple screen of apps — not so different from a smartphone. Will radio be there?

If so, Smulyan said, it cannot appear on the fifth page of apps.

“We have to be on that first page and NextRadio is the driver to get us there,” he said, adding that NextRadio is working with the auto manufacturers to help make sure radio remains relevant in the automobile of the future. “When the car of the future comes out, if you are not there (on that first page), you will be forgotten. We have to compete in the world that is out there.”

With Jacobson mentioning the continued popularity of Spotify and Pandora, Smulyan pointed to the visual component that NextRadio brings traditional radio stations — along with data and analytics that advertisers seek. That’s where TagStation comes in to play, with Smulyan inviting conference participants to sign up as, to his surprise, few at the sold-out conference were familiar with TagStation.

— Additional reporting from Radio INK