Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Letter: Radio in Phones Is a Non-Starter

There’s no sense in talking about a mandate

Comment on this or any article. Email [email protected].

Dear RW: A recent letter from Tim Lynch called for Congress to require that cellphones and tablets come equipped with an AM/FM receiver chip.

I wish there was OTA radio in my phone, but unfortunately radio in a smartphone or tablet does not work well. Back when Emmis was promoting FM in phones, some phones were made with FM “chips.” There is no way to do a “Front End Module” at low-VHF in a phone — it’s way too big — so the front end of the receiver is compromised before you get to the antenna. 

There is no way to place an efficient omnidirectional or diversity low-VHF antenna inside a phone. What you get is an insensitive receiver. Users can’t get stations they get on other radios unless they are very close, and they can’t rotate the receiver or walk into to shadows without losing the signal. 

Streaming, texting or making a phone call (unless you are near the FM transmitter) is a much more stable connection. People expect that if they have a radio, it will work as well as the car radio, and it will work anywhere the phone has “bars.” Instead, it works just like the receiver you bring to the hotel with you. Maybe if you sit it in the window with antenna extended on the best side of the building you can get that NPR station.

When wireless earbuds came along, even a poor receiver in a phone became unachievable. Without the earphone cords for an antenna, this is a receiver far to deaf to sell.

In a past life, I got to trial a couple of phones with FM. If you want to experience this, go buy a cheap FM “transistor radio” and break off the antenna. Now put it in your pocket and wander. Count how many stations are strong enough to be pleasurable listening. Do it again away from the transmitters in suburban and rural areas where people live and might have to evacuate to.

The answer to the question “Why can’t I get a phone with a radio receiver?” is “Because it will never work well enough to be a viable product, so they stopped making them.” It’s not a political thing, it is a technical thing. Broadcasting directly to a phone has to be UHF.

[Check Out More Letters at Radio World’s Reader’s Forum Section]