Philadelphia journalist prays for PRA to enable FM mobile chip


A writer for the Philadelphia Daily News looked at all three sides of the deal currently under consideration that would create a performance royalty for music played on the radio and put an FM chip is cell phones, albeit with manufacturers kicking and screaming. His conclusion: Put the chip in the phones. The writer is Jonathan Takiff.

For an article in a mainstream publication, Takiff’s exhibits a very good grasp of the essentials of the debate, which ropes in NAB, musicFirst/RIAA and now CEA and CTIA.

Perhaps the article lacks a bit of nuance when Takiff suggests that radio wants the cell chip so bad it’s willing to finally give on the performance royalty issue. We don’t think that’s it at all (with the possible exception of radio professionals who answer to the name of Smulyan). But the FM chip is there, as a prominent part of the package being negotiated.

Takiff notes one very good reason musical interests may be willing to settle for less than they were originally asking for – the fact that getting an agreement in the US will unleash royalties abroad that currently are unavailable due to lack of reciprocity.

He noted that the chips are very inexpensive, and already in many models but lying dormant. He said that part of the reason is that they’d rather sell streaming services than provide access to free radio.

Eventually, Takiff takes on NAB’s public safety argument – that the FM chip amounts to a personal emergency alert system for just about every adult in America. He said that the texting solution that manufacturers are working on should have been available long ago, and further noted that cell service is already easily disrupted in crowded areas like a subway station or concert intermission lobby, a situation that would be many magnitudes worse in the event of a real emergency.

Radio, on the other hand, will blast through off-air loud and strong, and the fact that there are many stations in most towns means that even if one station does go down, there are many other options.

As Takiff put it, in a memorable piece of prose, “Radio, bless it’s antiquated heart, blasts its signals almost everywhere at any time, even during hurricanes and Martian invasions. And if one antenna tower and station goes down, dozens of others are standing by, ready to deliver the time, temp and bad news.”

He concludes, “So Congress, do your part. Put a radio chip in my phone, will ya?”

RBR-TVBR observation: Takiff’s piece boils the issue down to the emergency alert level, and he concludes that the case for mandating the radio chip is solid. This is something to keep in mind whether or not the PRA compromise ever goes anywhere. If it dies on the vine, it still may be worthwhile working Congress on the FM chip/cell issue all on its own.