Text has been updated to clarify that the NextRadio app, while normally interacting with the internet, provides over-the-air FM reception regardless of whether internet or cell service is available.
Recent events in Texas and Florida are a reminder of radio’s relevance in times of crisis. Now NextRadio, the broadcaster-owned FM listening app for smartphones, has released data about consumer behavior that it says sheds light on how people rely on radio during the storms.
NextRadio combines over-the-air FM broadcasts with internet connectivity, but the app and FM chip works without Internet or cellular service too. In its white paper, the company said its data team tracked app usage during the storms and that a pattern began to emerge. As a storm approaches, it said, large numbers of people turned on the app, listener counts and sessions started to spike, but total time spent listening and session length decreased, as people tuned in and tune out for current information.
For example, Harvey made landfall on Friday Aug. 25 at Corpus Christi, Texas. Compared with an average Friday in that market, listener counts were up 186%, session starts increased 124% but total listening minutes went down by 3%, NextRadio reported. During Irma, listener counts and session starts increased more than 1,000% in some Florida markets.
Noting that emergency management agencies have long advocated for consumers to keep a portable radio with batteries handy for times of crisis, NextRadio argued that such radios are getting harder to find and that consumers who have them don’t always remember to keep fresh batteries.
Thus, according to the white paper, a mobile phone with active FM chip is essential, and industry leaders have been continuing their push on this front. Ahead of Harvey, Oscar Rodriguez, president of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, led an effort to remind people with Android phones to download the app. He also encouraged stations to mention listening via the app, citing benefits of the FM chip in preserving battery life and data packages.
NextRadio also highlighted issue of cell coverage failing during emergencies, as was the case in much of Florida, and noted that FEMA estimated three out of every four Florida residents lost power. Separately, it quoted a recent editorial in the South Florida Sun Sentinel stating, “Given our nation’s dependence on cellphones, the smartphone’s FM switch is a public safety issue.”
The white paper ends with a call to action. It asks broadcasters to remind consumers to download the NextRadio app as part of their emergency plans. It also asked stations to promote the NextRadio app all year long and to petition Apple to activate the FM chip in its own popular iPhone models at FreeRadioOnMyPhone.org.