Getting FM into cell phones may not come quickly


Radio broadcasters and their advocates have been working diligently to get FM chips into cell phones and other handheld devices with the argument that radio is going to be the most efficient way for citizens to receive information in a local emergency situation. But while progress is being made, it is coming slowly.

NAB President Gordon Smith tried to get three FCC Commissioners to endorse the idea in an NAB Show session. He said there was no better way to guarantee the availability of emergency information to the public than to mandate FM receivers in all cell phones. But none of the commissioners took the bait.

“Let the technology flower,” said Commissioner Michael Copps, while refusing to embrace a single technology for distributing emergency information.

“I love radio,” noted Commissioner Meredith Baker, but said she expected the issue to be worked out in the commercial sector.

RBR-TVBR recently reported that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had told numerous Members of Congress that while the FCC in December gave wireless phone companies a 28-month deadline to develop a commercial Mobile Service Alert System (CMAS). He noted that the FCC’s standards for CMAS do “not require or prohibit the use of Alert-FM” or similar FM radio-based technologies for the cell companies’ emergency alerting system.

Broadcasters and state governments, meanwhile, have been moving forward with Alert-FM deployment. When we met with Matthew Straeb of Global Security Systems, which owns Alert-FM, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) booth at the NAB Show, he told us that 14 states have adopted the RDS-based text alerting system, with coverage exceeding 40 million people. He noted that the Department of Homeland Security has been making grants for states to acquire the infrastructure.

One of the broadcast group owners to embrace Alert-FM is Commonwealth Broadcasting, whose CEO, Steve Newberry, happens to be Chairman of the NAB Joint Board. He told RBR-TVBR that while putting FM chips into cell phones is a great idea, it is likely to be a long haul to win over the cell companies.

Click here to view our entire video interview of Steve Newberry.