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NAB, NextRadio Dispute Apple Chip Claims

Says company’s iPhones are capable of FM reception

Dennis Wharton

The National Association of Broadcasters and smartphone radio reception app maker NextRadio disagree with several statements made by Apple in response to a request from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to unlock FM chips in the company’s iPhones in the interest of public safety.

Apple released a statement Thursday touting several other public safety features built into the iPhone, including the fact that users can “dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen” in addition to receiving “government emergency notifications, ranging from weather advisories to AMBER Alerts.”

The iPhone maker also claimed its iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 don’t include radio chips or antennas designed to support FM signals. “Therefore, it would not be possible to enable FM reception in those products,” according to Apple.

However, Paul Brenner of NextRadio disputes that statement. “It actually is in there. We have seen contradictory evidence to that,” Brenner said.

The National Association of Broadcasters also supports Brenner’s position: “Since 2012 NAB has commissioned quarterly tear down reports from ABI Research on a wide variety of smartphones to discover their capabilities. ABI’s analysis reveals that every Apple iPhone built during that time, including the iPhone 7, has a chipset that includes support for FM radio. Apple also continues to sell an iPhone 6S with an FM chip that is not activated, and there are nearly 100 million iPhones in the marketplace with a deactivated FM chip.”

“Like FCC Chairman Pai, we encourage Apple to activate this feature on their future handsets so Americans can have access to lifesaving information during emergency situations, something that many local radio stations provide. We welcome the opportunity to work with Apple to make that happen.”

Brenner says there is no better advocate for the NextRadio smartphone app than Chairman Pai. “It’s nice to have someone who thinks the way [Pai] does. There is a good message to come through. But that alone will probably not be enough to push Apple to enable. However, we could see some Congressional folks who get involved on behalf of their states, which would continue to build momentum for Apple to enable,” Brenner said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida also has asked phone manufacturers to unlock the FM chips in smartphones. “I would think if people who have a large stake in this on Capitol Hill put pressure on Apple it would be helpful,” Brenner said.

Brenner admitted there isn’t an easy fix to retroactively enable FM chips in older Apple iPhones already in the market. “It would still require the connecting of the FM chip to an antenna. For example the (iPhone) 6S requires a connector to the antenna so it’s not a software upgrade,” he said.

Smartphones typically rely on the headphone cable to act as its FM reception antenna, according to NextRadio. However, Apple’s new iPhone 8 doesn’t even have a headphone jack, something that Brenner says is not a deterrent to receiving an FM signal. “In the iPhone 8 both the USBC and Lightning connectors are completely capable of carrying the FM signal as an antenna,” Brenner said. “Or Apple could even put an internal antenna in the iPhone going forward.”

Apple has never told NextRadio why they don’t activate the FM radio chip, Brenner said. NextRadio now has 80 million radio-enabled Android handsets. Cell carriers Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile and Verizon are all enabling the FM radio chip in smartphones they sell, Brenner said. The NextRadio hybrid radio app was developed by TagStation LLC, owned by Emmis. TagStation is a cloud-based software platform that allows stations to manage album art, metadata and enhanced advertising on various devices.