FM receivers in smartphones

The makers of the NextRadio app recently announced that Samsung will be enabling the FM receiver chip on future smartphones. The phones already have the receiver, but they are generally not enabled. Enabling FM receivers on phones is great news.

As someone who has used a smartphone’s FM receiver, I want to be clear that it’s not a great experience. Headphone wires work as antennas, but not very well.

The main benefit is in emergency situations. In a widespread disaster, cellular service may be down or overwhelmed. Receiving FM broadcasts is a low-power way of receiving important information from officials. Indeed, I’d like to see the manufacturers go one step further and include receivers that receive All-Hazards Radio in addition to the commercial FM band.

Now, it’s possible that I’d use an FM receiver outside of emergency situations. I sometimes listen to Purdue sports on the radio if I’m doing yard work or otherwise unable to sit down and watch TV. The Purdue Sports Radio Network streams over TuneIn, which works pretty well. But there’s a delay, and if I’m moving in and out of Wi-Fi range, it becomes unreliable.

I guess I’ll see which models Samsung starts with before I figure out my phone upgrade plans. I don’t expect Apple to follow suit any time soon. Their embrace of wireless headphones means iPhones will have no antenna.

2 thoughts on “FM receivers in smartphones

  1. The only time I have tried to listen to terrestrial radio in years, beyond testing NextRadio, is when I drove to DC this summer. I decided that, being in a new environment, I’d like to try to hear what the flavor of DC was like.

    (Being uninterested in the flavor of Lafayette radio is a key factor in rejecting radio locally.)

    I was going smartphone — bluetooth –> car, and I quickly realized that I couldn’t get the concurrent Google Maps directions without listening to audio on the phone, and, being in a place I haven’t been for 20+ years meant directions took priority.

    Once I switched to the S8, testing showed that 1) NextRadio doesn’t work with Bluetooth, and 2) NextRadio doesn’t work with 2-band cables plugged into the car. Only headphone jacks.

    The other common use case I’ve seen is with the TVs in the treadmill sections of gyms having their audio broadcast on an otherwise-empty section of the FM band.

    Knowing your love affair with Kai Ryssdal, I would’ve guessed you liked and used terrestrial radio more. And I understand that there are technical reasons why FM is easier to stick in than AM (and once understood what they were).

    I’d guess that we get a more robust SMS alert system before we get more antennae in cellphones. And I know the problems with that.

  2. I agree that the value of terrestrial radio is very geography-dependent. I’ll usually have WBAA Classical or WJEF on in the car for trips in town. It’s simpler than hooking things up for a 5-10 minute drive.

    You’re right that I do listen to a lot of public radio content, but it’s almost exclusively on-demand. I download the podcasts and listen to them when it’s convenient for me. For example, when Marketplace airs I’m generally eating dinner and spending time with my kids. But after the kids are in bed, I’ll listen while washing dishes.

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