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FM in cell phone mandate

NAB's Campaign for FM in Cellphones: Possible Unintended Side Effects

Long time readers may recall that we previously reported on information from a variety of sources that NAB was trying to cut a Machiavellian deal with the record industry to have both support legislation requiring FM receivers in cell phones. NAB has denied this allegation:
In any case this legislation never gained any traction.

Recently, NAB-related Twitter feeds have been gloating about "voluntary" agreements with cellular carriers to "unlock" the FM demodulator in most or possibly all Android smartphones.

In view of the bizarre deal NAB allegedly tried to cut with the record industry on this issue, one wonders what NAB might have offered these cellular carriers? Support for their opposition to net neutrality? Support for their implementation of LTE-U in Wi-Fi bands? (Note that NCTA is strongly against this so supporting it could get back at 2 NAB enemies at the same time!)

Just as this issue is getting resolved bilaterally between the broadcasters and the cellular carriers, there was a piece today on NAB member NBCUniversal's Today Show about the danger from "ear buds" typically used with smartphones. Here is a quote:

"Probably the largest cause [of hearing damage] is millennials using iPods and [smartphones]," says Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, an ear, nose, and throat specialist from Munster, Indiana. Hearing loss among today's teens is about 30 percent higher than in the 1980s and 1990s, Cherukuri estimates….Cherukuri tells young patients to stop wearing headphones — especially earbuds, which place the sound closer to the ear drum, enhancing volume by as much as 9 decibels. "

Yes, ear buds came with cellphones to be used for voice calls. But the number of minutes of voice calls per phone is not increasing as most millennial prefer texting or e-mail. (Some that is also helpful in the RF safety area.) But encouraging millennials to use their ubiquitous smart phones for long term FM music listening just as the Sony Walkman disappears could raise the very issues that Dr. Cherukuri raises above as an unintended consequence. There are smartphone apps that limit acoustic power to prevent this danger, but we don't see much from either NAB or the cellular industry on why this is important for millennials.

Yes. the Walkman had a similar problem, but they were generally used with headphones not today's ear buds. The website, TeensHealth is the source of the green infographic at the right. It clearly says "Noise-induced hearing loss due to earbuds is 100% preventable if you use them in moderation." If the broadcast industry is so intent on changing the life style of millennials, we hope that pay attention to this key health issue also.


NAB and the FM in Cellphone Issue: The Disappearance of Radios

The National Capital Radio and Television Museum in Bowie, Md., is home to radios dating back to the 1920s
Photo from

Today is World Radio Day, a joint venture of ITU and UNESCO. UNESCO says

World Radio Day is about celebrating radio, why we love it and why we need it today more than ever. A day to remember the unique power of radio to touch lives and bring people together across every corner of the globe. Join the celebration!…Radio is a medium for the future. It has a duty to include young people, not just as listeners but as active producers and creators of content…In conflict and disaster zones, young international freelancers and local fixers contribute invaluably to the pursuit of information. They deserve to work in safety and security. Find out what can be done.

To celebrate this event, NPR had a piece this morning on “Finding A 'Radio That Is Just A Radio' In The Digital Age”. They sent their intrepid reporter out to buy “just a radio” - by which they meant a battery powered radio with a speaker but without a CD player, internet connection, etc. Good news is they found a convenient source even though the big box stores had nothing. Bad news is that source was Radio Shack! (However, they found alternatives available over the net.)

But this got me thinking about NAB’s past efforts in promoting HDRadio and in a statutory mandate for cell phones to include FM receivers. Earlier NAB blamed FCC for the failure of AM stereo since FCC did not immediately agree with NAB’s view of picking a technical standard. Of course, they conveniently ignore that AM stereo fizzled in other countries where the regulators kowtowed to the broadcasters and promptly picked a single standard. Just because we can build technology X does not necessarily mean that consumers want technology X.

So NAB Labs continues to discuss the availability of FM receive capability in smartphones, NAB provides a website radiorocksmyphone.com with this viewpoint:

Now, many Americans are demanding a FREE entertainment option as a feature on their smartphones – local radio! It's been around for decades, but it's better than ever – more music, more news, more choices than ever before. And best of all, it doesn't require a broadband connection or eat up your data plan.

The site has a list of “Radio Ready Cell Phones”: mostly from HTC, with a refurbished Blackberry, an Alcatel model, 2 models from LG and 3 from Samsung. (The list was last updated in June 2014 so maybe NAB isn’t taking this too seriously.)

I like radio, but I am a baby boomer not a “millennial”. Heck, I even have a ham radio license! I support NPR with donations and listening. But the way to keep radio from fading away is not to force consumers to buy a product they clearly are losing interest in; the way to preserve it is to have it carry content that people really want.

NAB Uses Twitter to Redact History on the FM Radio in Cell Phone Mandate Issue

While researching the previous post here on NAB’s new interest in cognitive radio, your blogger discovered the above tweets from NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton on his airwharton Twitter channel. Readers may recall that a widely reported NAB push on Congress for legislation mandating FM receivers in ALL cell phone was a recurring topic here in August - October 2010. We thought NAB had just given up on the issue. No!

The very same week of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre when China is busy burying unpleasant facts, NAB was doing the same thing! In China the “myth” of the massacre is from “foreign devils” trying to stop China’s growth and in NAB’s case “That’s myth from wireless cos” (sic).

Was the reported push for legislation really a “myth from wireless cos”? First we have below a 2010 news item from the CBS website. Since CBS is an NAB member we assume that they are not a tool of the cellular industry. Note especially the comment at 1:05 - 1:55 of the video.

While I can’t find a public quote from Mr. Wharton supporting the legislation that would have required FM receivers in cell phones, he seemed awfully upset in August 2010 about a cellular industry letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees opposing the then pending legislation, saying “it would be unfortunate if telco gatekeepers blocked access to public safety information offered by free and local radio."

In an August 6, 2010 NAB release that “can be attributed to NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton”, it states:

At the direction of House and Senate leaders in late 2009, NAB met with MusicFirst - representing artists, labels and unions. To date discussions have yielded the following potential terms. These terms have NOT BEEN AGREED TO, but are under discussion by the industry.

They include:

-Tiered rate of 1% or less for all net revenue (roughly $100 million for the industry) which is permanent and can not be adjusted without changing statute or by mutual agreement
-PERMANENT removal of CRB jurisdiction for terrestrial and streaming
-Streaming rate reduction from current rates
-Inclusion of radio chips on all mobile phones
-AFTRA issues resolved (agency commercial replacement on webcasts)

Note the next to the last item, “Inclusion of radio chips on all mobile phones”. Thus NAB stated in 2010 that it was discussing an FM radio mandate as part of a package of items with the music industry group MusicFirst to settle a music copyright dispute between them. So while in some strict sense NAB never formally agreed to the specific package of terms that included the FM mandate, the phrase in Mr. Wharton’s June 6 tweet about a “cellphone mandate that no one is pushing” seems less than candid.

It is clear that NAB was pushing this mandate in August 2010, it just never agreed on final package with the music industry. At the time NAB publicly disagreed with the cellular industry on the need for a mandate - they never denied their support for it until this current series of tweets.

NAB was perfectly happy to put this mandate on the cellular industry and consumers who have voted “with their feet” not to buy the few models of cell phones that include FM receivers. Perhaps if the broadcasters put some compelling content on their stations they might get listeners without mandates. NAB also has pressed FCC for HD Radio mandates to help prop up that technology that consumers are rejecting.

NAB, I’m sure you are good Republicans who object to the “Obamacare” insurance mandate. Why are you pushing all these other mandates and then denying it?

(For the record, your blogger is an avid NPR listener and a paid member of WAMU-FM.)


CTIA has now jumped in with this YouTube video dumping on NAB on this issue. (Note that CTIA says on 2 out of 20 people interviewed said they used their cell/smart phone to listen to FM. However, their is no indication of how many had that option since few cell phones at present have the capability. It really was an unfair question, although I think a fairer question would have got the same answer.)

I would love to moderate a public discussion between Mr. Wharton and Mr. Walls on this issue!

CTIA has now created a Twitter hashtag #nofmchipmandate . So if you need constant updating on how silly two powerful trade associations with million dollar CEOs can behave, just enter this into your favorite hashtags list and watch the silliness in real time!