FM radio on smartphones? The FCC wants to see it happen

There's no lack of streaming radio apps available for your smartphone, but one thing that is still mysteriously in short supply is access to FM radio. Most smartphones today have FM radio antennas built into them, but those antennas are only active in about half of smartphones here in the US. The FCC's new commissioner, Ajit Pai, would like to see that change.

Pai spoke to the North American Broadcasters Association last week and covered, among other things, his thoughts on giving consumers access to their phones' FM antennas. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily mean that the FCC will make new rules concerning FM antennas, because as Pai puts it, his belief in the free market means he "cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips."

Still, he says he will continue to bring the matter up as a way to nudge that market into shifting, because FM radio serves an important purpose. Not only is FM radio a major part of local communities, but it can be a lifeline during severe storms and disasters when wireless towers and internet services may go down. Over the air FM radio signals would persist in such a situation, giving people a way to get emergency alerts.

Of course, FM radio also has the benefit of leaving your mobile data plan untouched as you listen, which can't be said for radio apps like Pandora and iHeartRadio. That alone should be enough reason to want to see change in this space. Even though the FCC won't make new laws regarding the activation of FM antennas in smartphones, things do seem to be getting better – for instance, Pai says that in the last two years, FM antennas have gone from 25% activation in top-selling smartphones to 44%.

That's a good amount of progress, but the US and Canada still have a long way to go if they want to catch up with Mexico, where about 80% of smartphone FM antennas are activated. Hopefully we'll see the number of activated FM antennas continue to grow here in the States, but carriers that like seeing the data usage that comes along with radio apps might prove to be a roadblock to that.