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Smulyan on FM Chips: ‘Radio Needs a Shot in the Arm’

Emmis executive estimates smartphones with FM chips could be on the market ‘in the next 60 days’

The radio industry needs a shot in the arm, with both more attention from consumers and Wall Street. That’s why Emmis Communications has been so focused on getting FM chips into smartphones, company CEO Jeff Smulyan said this week.

“Our team is moving towards launch,” he told analysts in an earnings call. We’ve reported the broadcaster has been putting together a network of FM stations interested in using the Emmis NextRadio app to create the IP-based back-channel necessary for consumers to interact with the stations or advertisers using their mobile phones. 

Emmis, on behalf of the industry, has been working on a deal with Sprint for the wireless company to embed an FM chip in 30 million smartphones over three years in exchange for some $45 million worth of participating station advertising.

Smulyan estimates the phones could be in the market “probably in the next 60 days.”

The FM chip in smartphones “has the chance to change the trajectory of the radio industry,” said Smulyan. “We have to have radio top-of-mind. No one thinks that we reach 95% of the population. We have less [audience] fragmentation than newspapers and television,” he said. “We think being in smartphones” can provide that boost, given the potential back-end enhanced ad revenue opportunities. Most of his industry peers feel the same way, Smulyan added.

The response to the app has been positive, according to Smulyan: “When you can see album art, when you can rate records, when you can react with the radio in a way you never have, in a highly visual engaging way, from the palm of your hand.” If the public responds the way the industry thinks they will, and they see radio perform in a new light, he said, “We think it’s a game-changer.”