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FM Chip Debate Heats Up on Capitol Hill

CEA, CTIA don’t believe broadcasters just want to talk

The FM chip issue heated up on Capitol Hill today but it’s not clear anything has changed.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, is holding several hearings on different aspects of media and began with the future of audio.

The FM chip issue dominated much of the discussion. Broadcasters want a discussion and a congressional study of the issue. Emmis Communications Chairman Jeff Smulyan clarified several times that NAB is not asking for a mandated FM chip in mobile devices.

But the CEA and CTIA don’t believe that. CEA President/CEO Gary Shapiro asked rhetorically why radio doesn’t seek an FM chip in pillows and other objects, calling the issue a reaction to radio’s lowered listening over the years.

Smulyan refuted that, saying listening is not lower.

CTIA — The Wireless Association, VP Regulatory Affairs Christopher Guttman-McCabe said there are cellphones in the U.S. that have activated FM chips. He displayed the June Best Buy circular, showing 26 models. According to a recent study by CTIA, FM radio capability is available in 59 models in the U.S.

But that’s out of thousands of models, Smulyan said. He did say that since broadcasters have been pushing the issue, the amount has increased.

CTIA says there aren’t more because of low consumer demand for the feature.

Smulyan said that’s because the feature isn’t promoted in cellphone stores in this country; the feature is promoted overseas. To make his point, he held up two new Samsung Galaxy models. The one purchased in London has an activated FM chip while the one purchased here does not, he said.

Shapiro suggested the radio industry can create demand for FM chips in phones by aggressively promoting it on stations.

In a show of how important the hearing before the subcommittee was, several NAB executives turned out to support Steve Newberry and Jeff Smulyan who were testifying on behalf of broadcasters, including NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith, CTO Kevin Gage and Radio Division leader John David. Former NAB leader and now lobbyist Eddie Fritts was in attendance as well.

The hearing adjourned with no discussion of a next step, although some lawmakers indicated they will seek more information from the witnesses in writing.

Smulyan Remarks: ‘We are not asking for a mandate’

Shapiro: ‘No one source should be given preferential treatment’ (Transcript)