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GottaHaveFMRadio: Should FM be mandatory in mobile devices?



Sony ICF-S10MK2 Pocket AM/FM Radio, available on Amazon for $13.88

In their usual in-depth manner, Ars Technica has been covering the fight by radio broadcasters for a Congressional mandate that all mobile communication gadgets include FM radio receivers. Where do you stand on this?

My opinion on FM in mobile devices goes back to something I wrote four years ago, which I think still stands.

It being a time to remember tragedy and emergency [following the five-year anniversary of 9/11], it should be noted that radio remains the most reliable means of disseminating information to a large number of people. In an emergency, everyone tunes in to the news, and that kind of usage would clog the local Internet tubes. By contrast, volume of listeners has no effect on the speed of FM radio. In situations when time is a factor, FM remains the rock solid solution.

On a more day-to-day level, FM radio remains a top source for talk shows, an area podcast listeners can appreciate. And unlike satellite and most Internet sources, radio is local. For local news and events, radio is often the only listening option.

I was reminded of this recently when one of my co-workers had to deal with a massive power outage in Silver Spring, MD. Her entire town was off-line for nearly a week following a major storm. This included all the cell towers, cutting her off from any digital communication. Her only source of news and updates was the radio in her car. She had to buy a portable one along with other supplies after coming to work.

Personally, I don’t care for FM radio, but that’s due to content (and bait and switch games), not technology. The occasions when I listen to radio are few, but I like to have one in the house in case of emergency, and emergencies are why I support including FM receivers in mobile devices.

As far as it being mandatory, I don’t see a problem with that either. We already mandate much more invasive technology in mobile phones, such as location tracking, for emergency use. The tech is cheap and unobtrusive, so much so that the iPhone 4 Broadcom chipset includes an FM transmitter/receiver that is mostly dormant (used only for Nike Fit). If Apple can squeeze one in to the super-slim 4 without a price bump, every other vendor can too. And while the mandate proposal is motivated by selfish interests, I don’t think that should negate its overall merits.

So that’s my full stance on the situation, what’s yours? Are you for the mandate? Are you for FM radio but against the mandate? Are you against mandates in general? Where do you, the folks who use mobile gadgets and will be directly affected by this decision, stand?



  1. Xavier Lanier

    08/18/2010 at 12:03 pm

    I’m generally against mandates. I don’t think the proposed legislation has much to do with safety- it has to do with the RIAA. On the other hand, the only ‘radio’ i have at home is a Logitech Squeezebox, which pulls radio stations via my ISP.
    Crap…better go out and buy a transistor radio.

  2. Randall Garrett

    08/18/2010 at 12:17 pm

    Against mandates. Most talk is not on FM. Get your facts straight

    • Sumocat

      08/18/2010 at 12:53 pm

      I never claimed most talk was on FM.

      • Randall Garrett

        08/19/2010 at 7:26 pm

        Wasn’t trying to ruffle feathers, just reacting to your statement
        “On a more day-to-day level, FM radio remains a top source for talk shows,…”

        Seems to me that most FM stations tend to broadcast music as their mainstay. If this mandate is for public safety related functions, it seems that perhaps AM would be a better choice for range. FM is largely line-of-site while AM has more available skip, thus covering a broader area, presumably an important factor. Guessing shortwave is the go-to medium for range, but AM is cheaper/more commonly accessible to the average citizen.

        Still, understood that the main heartburn here is the “mandating” of this which feels like some push by an industry to get something pushed for their own good vs. For the public good. Call me cynical, but I smell a rat attempting a money grab.

        /end rant/

        • Sumocat

          08/20/2010 at 5:45 am

          No ruffling, just clarifying that’s not what I said.

  3. Gary Harrison

    08/18/2010 at 1:18 pm

    Silly idea, and I’m a radio enthusiast. There are plenty of radios to be had – car, home, portable – so that we don’t need to add to the expense (and maybe size) of our mobile devices. Maybe you could make a case for including NOAA Weather Radio, but even that is stretching it in my view. Besides…there’s an app for that :-)

  4. Ben

    08/18/2010 at 1:40 pm

    Meh, but mandates are lame.

  5. Yogh

    08/18/2010 at 8:40 pm

    I’m not against mandates, just all the bureaucracy involved with them. I agree with Xavier that this mandate’s purpose probably has little to do with safety, but I don’t think it has to be a bad thing. As you point out, radio is a good thing, especially for emergencies, but people these days have mostly forgotten that it’s used for that, even when groups like the Red Cross list a radio and spare batteries as essential items for emergency kits. The inclusion of radios in all mobile devices might make people remember that use.

    Even if there weren’t a mandate, there could be a certification for “Emergency Radio Receiver” that required the presence of a radio and the ability to be recharged somehow in the event of a power outage, whether by replacement batteries, solar panels, or even USB or car lighter. It would be kudos for companies to strive for as opposed to an overbearing government. There could be some award for all of a company’s mobile devices supporting this life saving service. The RIAA could spend the lobbying money it’s spending on the legislation instead on incentivising the inclusion of radio receivers. It’s just an idea.

    My ~$60 Samsung cell phone is designed for the Third World and includes an FM radio and solar panel. The Zune also includes an FM radio.

  6. Medic

    08/19/2010 at 5:46 am

    I think an fm radio should be part of every cell phone. In my experience, if only even recently, the fm radio is more reliable than WiFi. What is even the case for Europe, perhaps, in comparison to the USA, is that WiFi is nog readily available in a wide area, and coverage thus disappointing. This is not the case for FM radio.

  7. dstrauss

    08/19/2010 at 6:53 am

    I am against mandates, particualrly ones like this that claim public benefit, when in fact it is merely a front for the FM broadcasters to cap their royalty obligations at $100,000,000 per year by placating the RIAA with a massive increase in coverage. Basically, it stinks…

  8. CLC

    08/19/2010 at 6:55 pm

    Where in the Constitution does it say that Congress can mandate what companies put in their products?

    ‘Nuff said.

    I want a free society, not a tyrannical oligarchy. If people want it, the companies will make it. People aren’t that stupid. We don’t need our hands held through all of life. SOME people, sure, do stupid things; but they pay the price for that. If it’s really dangerous, we toss them in jail for doing it; but people know what they want to spend their money on. If they want it, it will come. Artificially pushing the market to do something only hinders progress. Can you imagine if Congress had been so worried about the jobs of milkmen that they mandated or subsidized their jobs?! What a waste of funds and a bridge of our freedoms, as well as a hindrance to progress!!!

    I repeat. We are not stupid people. More often than not politicians are the stupid bribe-takers who work for their own self-interests. Why in the heck are POLITICIANS deemed the smartest men in the room? I suppose if you think following the law is stupid compared to the easy “shortcut” through life….sure….

    But I want to live in the US, not the Middle Ages. I want to have the freedom of choice, not some nitwit who thinks he knows whats good for me better than I do.

    I love radio. I listen to it everyday. I have several radios in the house.

    • Sumocat

      08/20/2010 at 6:27 am

      “Where in the Constitution does it say that Congress can mandate what companies put in their products?” — Actually the Commerce Clause does grant Congress power to regulate commercial goods, as seen when they made seat belts mandatory in all vehicles (except buses). Congress can’t force us to use those seat belts (that’s regulated by the states), but they can and do require them to be included in the products. Note, that’s only what Congress can do, not what they should do.

      • CLC

        08/20/2010 at 7:42 am

        Read the Commerce Clause again. I know a lot of politicians like to pull things out of a hat to expand their power over us; but people need to actually read the Constitution for themselves, rather than have corrupt politicians tell them what it says:

        “[The Congress shall have power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;”

        This had been, until modern times, understood to mean that Congress had the power to regulate the exchange of goods between States in order to promote unity within the nation:

        “The U.S. Supreme Court, in recent cases, has attempted to define limits on the Congress’s power to regulate commerce among the several states. While Justice Thomas has maintained that the original meaning of “commerce” was limited to the “trade and exchange” of goods and transportation for this purpose, some have argued that he is mistaken and that “commerce” originally included any “gainful activity.” Having examined every appearance of the word “commerce” in the records of the Constitutional Convention, the ratification debates, and the Federalist Papers, Professor Barnett finds no surviving example of this term being used in this broader sense. In every appearance where the context suggests a specific usage, the narrow meaning is always employed. Moreover, originalist evidence of the meaning of “among the several States” and “To regulate” also supports a narrow reading of the Commerce Clause. “Among the several States” meant between persons of one state and another; and “To regulate” generally meant “to make regular”-that is, to specify how an activity may be transacted-when applied to domestic commerce, but when applied to foreign trade also included the power to make “prohibitory regulations.” In sum, according to the original meaning of the Commerce Clause, Congress has power to specify rules to govern the manner by which people may exchange or trade goods from one state to another, to remove obstructions to domestic trade erected by states, and to both regulate and restrict the flow of goods to and from other nations (and the Indian tribes) for the purpose of promoting the domestic economy and foreign trade.”

        This definition is further supported by the fact that the clause itself speaks of Congress regulating international commerce as if the meaning was the same as regulating interstate commerce. How can the US government regulate and mandate the production of goods in other countries?! It can’t! It can only regulate what comes in and out of this country and whether or not extra taxes are involved.

        PLUS, how is it possible to have a company that operates between states? The clause says “regulate commerce…among the several states”. That’s what goes between states. I don’t know about you; but I’ve NEVER seen a company plant it’s operation right smack dab between the borders of two states. Maybe there’s some small business in Texarkana that does that; but they must be very rare; and certainly this does not apply to the all these businesses that Congress is hammering on.

      • CLC

        08/20/2010 at 7:52 am

        The federal government mandating seatbelts is also unconstitutional. That is the job of the individual states, as is made plain by the Tenth Amendment.

        “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

        i.e. Everything else (Anything not specifically stated in the Constitution as a power of the federal government) is placed under state jurisdiction, unless specifically banned from the States by the Constitution (think Prohibition when it was around).

  9. Randall Garrett

    08/19/2010 at 7:33 pm

    Agree with CLC

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