NAB, Apple Diverge Over iPhone FM Chip Capability

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's call for Apple to activate the broadcast chips in iPhones has drawn some pushback from Apple suggesting Pai did not know its phones' capabilities, and a response from broadcasters suggesting Apple didn't either.

Following Pai's public statement that the chips should be activated for the sake of public safety and accessing lifesaving broadcasts when cell service goes down, Apple suggested Pai was barking up the wrong tree.

"IPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products," the company told TechCrunch. "Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to Amber alerts."

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But the National Association of Broadcasters, which had celebrated Pai's call for Apple activation, suggested Apple was not shooting straight.

"Since 2012 NAB has commissioned quarterly 'tear down' reports from ABI Research on a wide variety of Smartphones to discover their capabilities. ABI’s analysis reveals that every Apple iPhone built during that time, including the iPhone 7, has a chipset that includes support for FM radio," said NAB executive VP, communications, Dennis Wharton. "Apple also continues to sell an iPhone 6S with an FM chip that is not activated, and there are nearly 100 million iPhones in the marketplace with a deactivated FM chip.

"Like FCC Chairman Pai, we encourage Apple to activate this feature on their future handsets so Americans can have access to lifesaving information during emergency situations, something that many local radio stations provide. We welcome the opportunity to work with Apple to make that happen."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.