Jeff Smulyan says FM in cell phones is proven technology


Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan has been pushing for years to have FM receivers included in cell phones. He’s not standing still for Saga CEO Ed Christian’s assertion that putting FM chips in cell phones is a fledgling technology not yet seen in the United States.

On the contrary, the phones are already available. Smulyan has one, as do quite a few other Americans, although only a limited number of models are currently offered in the US.

“The idea that this technology is unproven is wrong. There have been over a billion cell phones sold with radios in them around the world. It is a very desired device elsewhere in the world. It’s being kept out of phones by the carriers in this country,” Smulyan told RBR-TVBR. “Everywhere consumers have had a choice of this they’ve opted for it. We estimate over half of all cell phones sold in the world within the next two years will have this device.”

Smulyan expects US consumer interest in having FM in cell phones to increase as wireless carriers move always from unlimited usage plans to charging heavy bandwidth users much more. People who enjoy listening to streaming Internet radio on wireless phones will see their monthly bills go up dramatically. With a built-in FM radio, they would have an alternative readily available in their device of choice, their personal phone. And yes, it’s currently only FM, but Smulyan hopes to see AM and HD added as the technology is developed for their inclusion in cell phones.

“I know CTIA – they are going to oppose anything. AT&T and Verizon have basically taken the position that ‘nobody tells us what to do’,” Smulyan said of the opposition from the cell phone trade association. He’s a bit more surprised by the reaction from CEA, saying that “a lot of manufacturers love this device.”

“It’s the absolute best solution to the WARN Act,” Smulyan said of the law requiring wireless telephony companies to develop emergency notification capability. “As you know, the WARN Act was passed almost five years ago and the phone guys have done nothing,” he said. Their plan is to develop a texting-based system. “The reality is, in an emergency sending people a 92-character text is just silly” as an emergency alerting system, Smulyan said. “There’s no way, with a tornado coming, that a 92-character text is going to tell you enough information to protect you and your family. It’s crazy.”

And while cell phones are nearly ubiquitous, texting is not. “I’ve learned that 40% of the American public has never sent or received a text message,” Smulyan noted.

To be sure, getting FM into cell phones is not without financial benefit for the radio industry, although Smulyan and the NAB have been pushing the public benefit of emergency notification on Capitol Hill. “The portable device today is the cell phone – and it’s where our industry needs to be,” Smulyan insisted.

He says broadcasters don’t understand the long-term benefits of radio in cell phones. “We will have a ‘buy’ button and people can not only buy songs, which is instant commerce, but they can also hit it for coupons, point-of-purchase sales – and that’s instant commerce for the radio industry and it’s instant commerce for the wireless industry,” Smulyan said.

RBR-TVBR observation: What’s your take on this and other aspects of the PRA negotiations? We’re here to move the debate forward. Please post your comment below or email a longer “Viewpoint” to [email protected]. Please include your name, title, company and, if possible, a photo of yourself.

RBR-TVBR note: See RBR-TVBR Exclusive: Cell phones might sell Radio on PRA this report explains the value to all parties involved.