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Brenner Delighted With AT&T “Validation”

Calls for more stations to participate in NextRadio

Sprint’s support was good for the FM chip movement; now AT&T takes things to another level.

That’s the view of Paul Brenner, point person for NextRadio and for the industry’s efforts to get carriers to activate FM reception capabilities in smartphones.

AT&T will include FM chip activation in its device specifications for Android phones in 2016. Brenner has been negotiating with AT&T on a business deal for more than a year and is hoping the outcome will help bring more carriers into the NextRadio tent. Indeed, during a Tuesday hearing of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on FCC oversight, Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.,a former radio station owner himself, praised AT&T’s decision. “We hope other carriers will follow suit.”

Brenner told Radio World that NextRadio’s deal with the carrier is notable because of AT&Ts volume and influence in both the mobile industry and the regulatory world. He said AT&T has some 120 million subscribers, more than twice the number of Sprint, as well as a large network that brings more potential users to the pool of people who will be able to listen to FM on their devices.

Brenner said he’s working on more such deals; he didn’t specify whom he’s been in talks with, though it seems safe to assume he’s pushing the other largest carriers, which include T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and the nation’s largest, Verizon Wireless, which has even more subscribers than AT&T.

NextRadio said AT&T will communicate a request to manufacturers to activate existing FM chips in Android smartphones. While carriers alone cannot determine what handset makers do, such guidance has significant impact, Brenner said, noting that most Sprint phones (41 models) now are capable, and that a number of handset makers have activated the FM chip independent of carrier agreements.

“It makes our negotiations easier when phones show up on [a carrier’s] network without a problem,” Brenner said. As happened to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication, he said, his hope is that FM capability will simply become standard in phones over time.

NextRadio and TagStation are Emmis-owned entities that promote the NextRadio FM listening app and station support infrastructure. Brenner said broadcasters have licensed some 2,000 channels, including HD Radio multicasts, with enhanced NextRadio features. But he reiterated his call that all broadcasters participate. “There’s an expectation from AT&T. The only way it works is that everyone has content and is trying to promote it.” He encouraged stations to run promotional spots and populate their data channels with album art so that users get the full benefit. Brenner also said the NextRadio system provides performance data that can help stations bring advertisers who’ve left back to radio.