Broadcasters to Apple: FM Radio Is the iPhone’s Missing Feature

The National Association of Broadcasters is calling on Apple to take steps to add FM radio functionality to its devices, something which Apple says isn't possible in recent models—a claim NAB's chief technology officer is skeptical of.

With the spate of recent deadly storms, a situation that has been a bit of a pet issue for the broadcasting industry in recent years—encouraging phone manufacturers to turn on the FM radios already built into their devices—has found itself on the front burner once again.

These days, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has its sights set on Apple, which it says has actively avoided turning on the FM radio included in many of its phones.

Last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called on Apple to “reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.” The company denied this was possible, as the most recent versions of the iPhone, starting with the iPhone 7, do not include the necessary chip to make this happen.

Apple, historically, has only offered FM radio functionality in just one portable device, the iPod Nano (shown above), which the company discontinued in July. Additionally, some early variations of the Macintosh that included TV-tuning functionality, like the Power Macintosh 5500, also allowed users to listen to the radio.

However, in iOS devices prior to the iPhone 7, the communications chips did include built-in FM radio functionality, though Apple says this functionality is disabled at the hardware level and cannot be turned on using software.

In a new blog post, NAB Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President Sam Matheny takes aim at this claim, suggesting that the most recent iPhones do have the necessary FM chip, citing device breakdowns of the iPhone 8. Per Matheny:

Apple has chosen to only use the WiFi and Bluetooth aspects of the communications module. They have admitted as much for all phones through the iPhone 6 series, at which point they claim FM capability was removed from the 7 series and 8 series. Yet, tear-down reports indicate the iPhone 8 contains the same 4357 chip family, which manufacturer Broadcom clearly states includes an integrated FM radio core.

Beyond the chip, which would need to be connected somehow, another challenge may be the antenna. Traditionally, portable radio players have used headphone cables as the device’s antenna for FM radio—as FM radios work best with antennas of 3 feet or longer. (This, in fact, is also how the iPod Nano works—the device’s FM radio will not operate without a wired headset or speaker system.)

But as recent models of the iPhone somewhat infamously got rid of the headphone jack, this further adds complication to the issue.

NAB’s Matheny says that this highlights Apple’s disinterest in offering FM functionality, despite clearly being able to do so from a technical standpoint—while pointing out its competitors largely have no such issue with the addition.

“Again, Apple enables the antenna for the Nano, so it has the experience and expertise to make FM radio capability work,” he wrote. “And from a competitive standpoint, other manufacturers of best-selling smartphones such as Samsung, LG, and HTC have enabled FM radio reception in the U.S. and around the world.”

NAB even offered to help the company out. And, in light of the recent hurricanes, Matheny appealed to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s upbringing in Mobile, Alabama.

“Mobile has been impacted by at least 10 different hurricanes since 1969 and that was prior to Nate, which brought a nearly six-foot storm surge and flooding, so I have to believe Mr. Cook has a personal appreciation for the damage these storms can inflict,” he added. “We invite him and Apple to reconsider activating FM radio in iPhones, and we stand ready to work together to enable this important service.”

The high-end iPhone X, which Apple says does not include FM radio functionality. (Apple press photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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