What Good Is An FM Chip For Emergencies If The Content Isn’t Getting There?

I live in New Jersey, near the Raritan Bay in one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully my street and home escaped any damages. I write this now from the warm shelter of a friend’s house after over two days in the dark.

We lost power just after 5:00pm on Monday just as the worst of the storm was starting to reach us. By the time the roads were clear enough for me to make the 35 mile drive where I needed to go, two days in the dark had gone by. During that time my battery powered radio was the only source of information to the outside world we had as our nearby cell towers were offline.

At the peak of the storm only two local FM’s were in full storm mode. New York Public Radio’s 93.9 WNYC-FM and Disney’s 98.7 WEPN-FM, the latter of which was simulcasting the programming of sister WABC-TV. Some other stations had local break-ins but for those fearing their lives what good is it that Taylor Swift is never getting back together?

The NAB has been on a crusade to have FM chips placed in cell phones using crises such as this as a reason why. That’s all and good, but without the content the listeners need what good is it? Here’s two examples:

CBS owns two All-News stations in New York, 880 WCBS and 1010 WINS. It was not until those AM’s transmitters went dead very early on Tuesday, that the AM’s programming began airing on FM. Where were they during the height of the storm? Same goes for Cumulus’ WABC or soon to be Clear Channel’s WOR? They had dedicated their programming to storm coverage on AM, while their FM’s interspersed brief updates between letting us know that Taylor still was never, ever getting back together with her ex beau.

The hyperlocal News/Talk station in my area is Greater Media’s 1450 WCTC. They supposedly did a tremendous job keeping listeners informed with their storm coverage. Those that were relying on an FM chip would have no way of knowing as their sister AC “Magic 98.3” WMGQ continued with their usual music mix.

Kudos go to Longport Media’s 1400 WOND Atlantic City, which even before the storm hit began simulcasting on sister 102.7 WWAC. The AM quickly went off the air and is awaiting the arrival of new transmitters but the programming continues to be pumped out on FM reaching those in need of pertinent information. We wouldn’t be surprised if that simulcast ends up being permanent.

There was great information and content being provided by many stations, including those that did stick with music in between the information. But if the goal is to serve the public with the most vital information why is not going to as many ears as possible why weren’t the programming being fed by the AM’s placed on the FM signals? We can debate all we want about the other reasons pro or con for placing FM chips in mobile devices, but if there’s no content of use being placed there then the whole issue is a non-starter.

Comments

  1. MattParker says

    Very good points.

    I’m not sure why the big push for FM chips. It seems like the vast majority of smartphones already have them. I’m on my second smartphone (after a series of five or six cell phones). Both the smartphones had FM.

    I never use it. FM only works with a headset (which serves as an antenna). Reception is very poor compared to table top radios and portables I’ve had.

    I didn’t lose power this time but I was out for four days for the Halloween weekend snowstorm last year; and for five days for a summer windstorm a few years ago. Both times I used my CCRadio on D-batteries I keep around. But, you know, either time I didn’t get much useful information. I knew the storm was coming – and had arrived – by the time the power went out. I knew when the storm had passed by looking out the window. I knew power was out all around me. It’s sort of academic how many thousands are also out. Nobody could tell me when I’d get the power back. That was the one thing I wanted to know and radio, smartphones or even PECO could tell me that. The rest of the “storm coverage” was just PR, feel good pieces and don’t be stupid stories.

    If radio is only something for emergencies – like flashlights and canned goods – that isn’t much of a business model.

    And radio’s big towers are just as susceptible as mobile phone small towers.

    Nobody is pushing for cameras in smartphones, or GPS, or flashlights … It’s a sad commentary that the NAB is trying to FORCE radio chips into smartphones. That says to me no consumer demand.

    But if they are going to do it, then if should have AM, FM, WX and HD radio. Maybe HD TV, too. Of course, if the NAB insists on any of this, broadcasters should pay for it – not smartphone manufacturers, mobile carriers or customers.

  2. Joe Derise says

    On Saturday, 90.5, WBJB,The Brookdale Comunity College station did an excellent job informing Monmouth and Middlesex county residents with much needed local information.

  3. Charles Everett says

    I live one county removed from Lance and the situation immediately after Sandy was not good. New Jersey 101.5 [WKXW] got knocked off the air and wasn’t back on until Wednesday. Star 99.1 [WAWZ], a local station with a full-power Class B signal, didn’t want to disrupt its Christian AC format.

    WCTC was hyperlocal during and after Sandy, but 1450 is a graveyard channel with an iffy signal after sunset.

  4. JM in San Diego CA says

    Stations sometimes can’t afford to go all-news during an emergency, particularly if the audience is diluted. There are more than a few stations that are hanging by a thread and can’t afford to have bad numbers reported.

    FM chip? Everyone assumes that electronics can do anything. Sorry. The chips can only do so much. A receiver needs some external tuning components just to work. To put a superior receiver in the limited space available inside a phone is currently impossible.

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