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AT&T to activate FM radio chips in future mobile phones

NextRadio, the "listen live" app for Android phones with an activated FM radio chip

The radio industry posted a big win in its campaign to get carriers to activate the FM radio chip built into most mobile phones.

AT&T agreed Tuesday to specify that the FM chip be activated in Android phones manufactured in 2016 and beyond, according to NextRadio and TagStation, the Emmis-owned entities that promote an FM listening app and station support infrastructure.

AT&T is the second major carrier to back the FM chip. In 2013, Sprint agreed to enable its customers to listen to local FM radio stations from a broad spectrum of radio companies and aggregators on select Android and Windows smartphones. The FM radio capability is delivered through the NextRadio tuner application or other radio apps or services.

An email signed by  The NextRadio + TagStation Team, which developed the app that allows users to listen to stations on an activated FM chip, stated: “This is a big milestone for the radio industry and shows working together and supporting this initiative is paying off.”

“The change is made by the OEMs (smartphone makers), and by having the support of carriers like Sprint and AT&T putting it in their specifications it increases the probability of getting the FM chip turned on,” said the email. “We already have experienced handset makers activating it across all carriers (for example, new models of HTC One and Moto phones) and AT&T’s request fuels the support and progress being made.”

Radio Ink reports an ebullient statement from Jeff Smuylan, chairman, CEO, and founder of Emmis Communications and long-time champion of the FM chip in mobile phones.

“This was a plan we developed many years ago. It was an industry decision that (NAB CEO) Gordon Smith and I, and a number of other people made, to either file an anti-trust suit, get a mandate in Congress or make a business deal,” said Smulyan. “The people who brought wi-fi into this country said make a business deal with a smaller carrier and prove the concept. Then when we hit critical mass, about 2 1/2 million downloads, we would take the message to the industry and ask everyone to tell their listeners that all smartphones have an FM chip and they should contact their carrier to get it activated. Within 45 days of that message AT&T came to us and said let’s make a deal. The most important thing about this is if the industry tells listeners, we will be everywhere. We always felt that one big carrier was the tipping point and that’s where we are now.”

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith, said in a statement: “Today marks a new beginning in mobile technology with the agreement by a global iconic brand, AT&T, to light up the FM receiver chips in all of its future Android smartphones. With this decision, AT&T’s customers become the biggest beneficiaries, giving them access to local radio news, entertainment, weather, and failsafe emergency alert connectivity. With access to apps like NextRadio, AT&T’s listeners will also enjoy song tagging and interactivity features that have become increasingly popular with younger listeners. America’s broadcasters salute AT&T’s decision to serve its customers through collaboration with America’s local radio stations. Bravo!”