Activating mobile phone FM: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks at NAB symposium

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Aaron Kuhn, who shares the following:

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks at the North American Broadcasters Association’s Future of Radio and Audio Symposium from today have been posted at

I found the most interesting info in the statement is only 44% of the top selling smartphones in the US have an FM Chip activated have them activated. This figure pales in comparison to Mexico, where 80% of the top selling smartphones have the FM Radio chip activated.

Chair Pai goes on to state:

“You could make a case for activating chips on public safety grounds alone. The former head of our Federal Emergency Management Administration has spoken out in support of this proposal.

[…]I’ll keep speaking out about the benefits of activating FM chips. Having said that, as a believer in free markets and the rule of law, I cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips. I don’t believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it’s best to sort this issue out in the marketplace. For despite the low numbers, we are seeing progress; in the last two years, the percentage of top-selling smartphones in the United States that have activated FM chips has risen from less than 25% to 44%. “

Which leads me to this question for the SWLing Post community: would the benefits, emergency and otherwise, of mandated, activated FM Receiver Chips in new Smartphones sold outweigh the free market arguments?

Feel free to share your comments!

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12 thoughts on “Activating mobile phone FM: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks at NAB symposium

  1. Phil from Darwin

    Taking Mr Pai’s logic to its natural conclusion all phones sold in the marketplace should not be provided with an operating system of any sort. Leaving the poor old consumer to battle their way through the ‘free market’ and the technicalities of purchasing an OS and all the other associated software people expect on a ‘phone’.
    Governments should intervene where there is market failure. That’s one of the things they’re elected to do. If the Government considers there is a market failure in this instance basdd on genuine safety concerns then it should intervene. Silly philosophical arguments based on ideology, ie ‘I’m a believer in free markets’, is nonsense.
    By the way, I don’t have a view one way or another as to whether there is a market failure here. I’m just pointing out the problem with Mr Pai’s argument.

  2. Kire

    I have fm on my kyocera hydro. A free app from nextradio enables it. Reception is ok but I dont listen to fm due to the programming in the us is mostly coorporate.

    1. DL4NO

      The cries for “less government” as above are a philosophical issue and in my opinion largely the result of a very obsolete (18th century!) constitution. I am very lucky not to live under an “Emperor” of the first (800 – 1806) or second Reich (1872 – 1918).

      Governments under a modern constitution can do much better: better healthcare for all, better (largely free) educational system, better radio programs – even better cars 🙂 That is why you hardly see any US designed car over here despite The Donald thinking otherwise.

      No: Our public broadcasting system is not financed or controlled by Angela Merkel. Laws make sure that this broadcasting system is largely independent and has many voices (not only singing ones!).

      So a FM radio in my phone is quite essential for me.

  3. 13dka

    I wouldn’t know of a service provider that disables FM radio on their branded phones in Germany and probably most other countries in Europe. I also think that artificially and arbitrarily disabling much of what’s considered core features over here wouldn’t fly well with the audience.

    However, DL4NO is right about the broad choice of quite cheap smartphones on the market. The best way for customers to gain some influence on overly greedy and moronic “free” (more soundling like “free to rob you” in this case) marketing policies is “if you don’t like it, don’t accept it, buy something else”, even if it hurts a little. That’s your freedom of choice, and you should use it wisely.

  4. DL4NO

    I never saw the logic of buying a phone from the service provider.

    There are features you will not get this way. The radio seems to be suc a feature. Dual-SIM is another. Or to simply keep the old phone that does its job reliably.

    True: you do not feel the price of the phone so strongly. But you pay it nevertheless. Chinese phones are cheap and full of features you might like. You only have to make sure that the phone supports all standards and bands your phone company uses.

    Here in Europe the selection is easy: The phone must support GSM and LTE, UMTS is next to obsolete. The bigger problem are the supported frequency bands.

  5. John Figliozzi

    The FCC ought to mandate its activation if (and in my opinion there is) a benefit to public safety exists. That is really all the basis the agency needs to do so. This mamby pamby “the marketplace with do it if there’s justification for it” ignores the fact that not doing so favors the cellular industry by restricting access to an alternative communications platform. It costs the cellular provider absolutely nothing to activate the FM (portion of the) chip. In fact, it might cost them more to keep it inactive! We just don’t know because such transactions between manufacturer and provider are deemed “proprietary” under our “free market system”. Apparently the only player in this transaction that is deemed by Mr. Pai not to have a say in it is the one who ultimately pays the freight — the consumer.

    1. Tom Reitzel

      Mr. Pai is correct. We need less governmental interference, not more. The mandate of AM stereo certainly didn’t help the MW band, did it? Since the percentage of activated FM chips is climbing, the marketplace is naturally fulfilling the demand of consumers. Kill the mandated subsidy of NPR next, Mr. Pai.

      1. Tom Reitzel

        Mr. Pai should have considerable influence with the Republican-controlled US Congress in shaping our communications over the next few years. Work with the US Congress to eliminate overcrowding and governmental mandates of the broadcast bands. For example, allow competition to DTS’ HD radio standard, i.e. drop the mandate. I just recently bought Sangean’s HDR-18 radio, too 😉

  6. Edward

    Does the carrier charge extra to have it activated? And does the phone receive over the air FM (88-108 mhz) or is this streaming audio? and if the calling plan expires is the phone still useful as an FM radio only?

    1. John Figliozzi

      Edward –

      To answer your questions. (1) You don’t have the option; the provider does. And we don’t know if the provider is or would be charged either way. (See my comment.) (2) The phone receives FM over the air if the chip is activated. The earpiece cord becomes the antenna. There is some controversy over how good the reception is, but something is always better than nothing. (3) One would presume that the FM tuner would take the form of an app that would remain usable even if one’s calling plan expires.

  7. David Bley

    If the hardware in my phone supports FM, why don’t I have the choice to activate it? Not an expert but the current situation does not seem like a free market. I would even pay a one time fee, like an app to activate it (instead of all the stupid, useless apps that I can’t remove).


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