FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Wants To Activate Smartphone FM Radio Receivers For All Consumers

FM radio — is that still a thing? We’re mostly kidding, but many of us don’t have (or miss having) FM radio functionality on our smartphones these days, not when we have services like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and Tidal to satisfy our music needs. However, did you know that your smartphone probably has support for FM broadcast built-in, but it just isn’t enabled by the manufacturer? And it could be available to you, totally free of charge. 

Newly installed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai wants to change this situation. Pai took over the position from Tom Wheeler once President Donald Trump came into office, and he wants smartphone OEMs to enable FM radio functionality on phones, especially to aid in emergency situations (among other things). When you think about it, Pai may actually have a point here.

Ajit Pai

FM tuning support is already baked into hardware that powers our smartphones, so enabling it is only issue of tweaking the firmware and adding software app support. In the case of natural disasters or other emergency situations that may strike at a moment’s notice, we can’t always rely on cellular coverage to give us access to news or emergency warnings.

“When disaster strikes, often knocking out cell networks and Internet service, over-the-air radio is a lifeline, providing the latest weather forecasts or directions on where to seek shelter or relief assistance, said Pai. “After hurricanes or tornadoes or fires or floods, time and again, we see an exponential surge in radio audiences.”

Pai goes on to state that by activating FM radio on smartphones, users would be able to listen to their favorite local over-the-air station while using one-sixth the battery life of streaming solutions (all while consuming far less or no data).

Although Pai wishes that all smartphone OEMs would activate FM radio for customers, he says that he believes in “free markets and the rule of law.” As such, while Pai touts the benefits of such a move, he will not mandate that OEMs comply with his wishes. “I don’t believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it’s best to sort this issue out in the marketplace,” added Pai. “For despite the low numbers, we are seeing progress; in the last two years, the percentage of top-selling smartphones in the United States that have activated FM chips has risen from less than 25% to 44%.”

So, what do you think, HotHardware readers? Does your smartphone have FM radio enabled and if so, do you use it? For those that don’t have FM radio, would you welcome the feature?

Tags:  FCC, ajit pai, fm radio