Why You Can’t Listen to Radio On Your Smartphone

There’s an FM radio on your phone…but you likely can’t use it

Chat Roberts/Corbis

Did you know that your smartphone likely has an FM radio inside? If you’re one of the two-thirds of mobile phone users who don’t have their FM chip activated, probably not—and that’s just how your phone company wants it.

Smartphones’ ability to tune into FM radio is at the center of an ongoing battle between broadcasters and mobile companies, Emma Bowman reports for NPR. Though mobile phone providers insist that consumers don’t want to listen to radio, as Bowman notes, they also make money off of selling data to smartphone users. So they sell Apple, LG and Samsung phones without their built-in FM chip enabled. (Bowman reports that Motorola and HTC chips aren’t blocked, while Sprint has enabled the feature for phones that operate on its network.)

At this week’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, the FM chip issue heated up, with presenters delivering fiery speeches demanding that mobile phone companies open up access to consumers’ FM chips. They argue that enabling the FM chips could help users avoid data charges and access radio during emergencies. It’s an opinion shared by some House Democrats, who recently asked the FCC’s chairman to consider opening up FM chips so the public can use radio to access emergency alerts.

But, reports Bowman, the mobile industry begs to differ, claiming that consumers want to customize and stream music instead of listening to radio. Meanwhile, lobbying groups like MusicFirst, whose mission is “ensuring music creators get fair play for their work everywhere it is played,” are slamming the NAB’s demands for FM chip activation as “a scam,” claiming that activating FM chips would be the equivalent of using rabbit ears on an iPad.

While you wait for the ability to listen to radio on your smartphone, why not use it in another way instead? New research shows that phones' GPS could be used in the future to detect and track earthquakes.

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