Smulyan Slams Apple As SoFla Editorial Calls For FM Chips



MIAMI — For Coral Gables, Fla.-based realtor and marathon runner Jorge Muñoz, it is day No. 6 without electricity at his Edgewater Drive home. On famed Calle Ocho, FEMBi Mortgage Director of Marketing Sergio Mankita had power restored Wednesday evening, only to lose it 12 hours later while preparing to go to his office; he returned Thursday evening to climb up 13 flights of stairs to gather fresh clothes and sleep elsewhere once again. In Tavernier, former Miami Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes football coach Jimmy Johnson was in tears as he surveyed the damage to his home.

These are among the hundreds of thousands of residents that still don’t have reliable access to TV, or the internet, across a wide swath of South Florida. Access to the radio is essential. It’s why Tronc’s Fort Lauderdale-based daily, the Sun Sentinel, published Friday (9/15) an impassioned editorial pleading Apple to turn on its FM chips across its iPhone products.

The editorial hit a nerve with not only NAB EVP/Communications Dennis Wharton, but also the radio industry leader behind the NextRadio app—Jeff Smulyan.

We’ve got an RBR+TVBR Observation on the topic.

In a plea to Apple, the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board writes, “When Hurricane Irma wiped out power and cell phone service, a hidden feature in our smartphones could have helped Floridians stay informed. But Apple refuses to flip the switch that would let the iPhone work like an FM radio.”

The newspaper’s five-member Editorial Board continued, “As a result, many smartphone users in the nation’s third most-populous state couldn’t hear the emergency alerts, storm updates and other critical information communicated after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to millions. Instead, we were advised to buy battery-operated radios in advance. Even if you could find and afford one, good luck finding the batteries to run them. A better answer resides in the palm of our hand.”

While noting that the makers of Android-powered phones “have relented” by adding the free NextRadio app from Emmis Communications-owned TagStation, it was blunt in its criticism of Apple, calling its resistance “unacceptable.”

In an exclusive interview with RBR+TVBR, Smulyan was more blunt — and acerbic — in his criticism of Apple.

“The problem is I’ve got a friend on the Apple board … and they’ve got so much arrogance,” Smulyan said. “We will need the entire industry to put pressure on them to make progress.”

The NAB has long advocated for the activation of the FM chip in all headsets. The FCC urged mobile phone companies to turn on the FM chip in all devices. But, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, echoing Republican beliefs on regulation of U.S. businesses, said it wasn’t something the Commission could mandate.

The Sun Sentinel‘s thoughts on this? “The telecommunications industry shouldn’t need a new law or regulation to do the right thing.”

For Smulyan, the issue is “almost comical.” He notes, “What we’re proposing to Apple costs them no money. They have taken this attitude of, ‘We feel like doing what we feel like doing, and that’s that.’ With $260 billion in the bank, they are just taking a position that they feel like doing whatever they feel like doing. But, they are not immune.”

With knowledge that the FM chips have been in iPhone headsets for “forever,” Smulyan says what happened in Florida should fuel all broadcasters to call on Washington for action. But, he’s well aware of Pai’s belief that the Federal government does not want mandates.

“You’re dealing with the tremendous amount of power Apple has,” he laments. “There is no negative for them whatsoever.”

Wharton told RBR+TVBR, “As NAB has said repeatedly, we are not asking government to mandate an activated FM chip in SmartPhones. We are asking for Apple to voluntarily do the right thing as a public safety precaution and light up the chips.”

Asked by RBR+TVBR about the August 2017 rollout of a data-only version of the NextRadio app for iOS users, Smulyan said, “This was done to at least get Apple users to know what it is. It is a simple fix.”

RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION: The Sun Sentinel editorial concludes with the following words: Beyond prayers, Floridians need our iPhones to receive FM broadcasts. Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it. Our app and streaming addictions won’t disappear if we have the option of listening to FM radio. That’s why our earbuds are plugged into an iPhone, not a Walkman. We paid for these radio chips when we bought our pricey Apple phones. It’s time to let us turn them on.

We absolutely agree. On Friday, with Hurricane Irma approaching the Florida Straits, our editor-in-chief went on Facebook to share the NextRadio website and download information for all. Several people chimed in, amazed that such an App existed.

This is where we not only slam Apple, but also Samsung for not promoting this in its advertising. We also wish to wag the finger at the radio broadcasting industry, who did not mention in even one on-air promotion that NextRadio existed and was available as a free download.

That’s a shame. But, then again, 13 months ago when our editor-in-chief took over RBR+TVBR he never heard of it either.

Let’s pool some money together and advertise NextRadio. Now.

If not, we’ll be seeing more of these editorials — and inaction.

That’s a matter of life and death.

To view the Sun Sentinel editorial in its entirety, please click here.