The Smartphone: Where FM Radio Goes to Die

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If you’re betting on mobile as the future, then you’re probably betting against FM radio.

According to a recently-concluded survey by Mark Ramsey Media, most smartphone users are not dialing into ‘terrestrial’ broadcast radio at all – even if that feature is built into the phone at purchase.

Maybe it seems obvious, though personalized powerhouse Pandora is taking the smartphone cake, with upstarts like Slacker and Spotify also threatening in the US.  “A mobile phone is not a car without the wheels,” Ramsey wryly observed, while noting that in-car radio usage trends much, much higher.

Which is a problem for broadcasters, because the smartphone is now becoming the in-dash option for many listeners.  And this is where radio is losing big: apps are innovative, eye-popping, and great for ‘impressing your friends,’ but radio station apps are frequently flat, non-interactive, and limited.  “Most stations don’t even have an app,” Ramsey said, while criticizing the single-station apps that do exist.  “Most of the apps out there are built around the function of streaming the station only…  These apps don’t have the functionality of personalized radio apps – they just don’t do the same thing.”

All of which makes a crusade by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to legally mandate built-in FM radio reception in phones seem comical.  Shouldn’t users decide, and why should manufacturers be forced to pre-install things, anyway?  On that point, Ramsey found low levels of uptake even among those carrying built-in FM radio apps, which currently accounts for about 17 percent of phones.  Of that group, 57 percent ‘almost never’ listened to broadcast radio, while just 5 percent accessed it everyday.