Apple Faces Renewed Pressure to Enable FM Radio Chip in iPhones Amid Strong Hurricane Season [Updated]

A series of powerful storms over the past six weeks, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, has placed renewed pressure on Apple to enable the FM radio capabilities of the wireless modem in every iPhone.


The biggest push continues to come from the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobbying group that represents over-the-air radio and television broadcasters in the United States, according to Bloomberg.

"Broadcasters are providing information on how to evacuate quickly, where flood waters are raging, how to get out of harm’s way if there's a tornado or a hurricane," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. "The notion that Apple or anyone else would block this type of information is something that we find fairly troubling."

Both the Qualcomm and Intel chips that enable Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity in every iPhone have a built-in FM tuner that would allow people to listen to FM radio over the air. Apple has not enabled the functionality, forcing users to use an app to stream FM radio over Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Powerful storms can leave thousands or millions of people without power or cellular service for weeks or even months, however, which can make it difficult or impossible to listen to FM radio over Wi-Fi or cellular.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai also renewed his calls for smartphone manufacturers to enable the chip during a recent trip to areas of southern Florida devastated by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, according to the report.

Pai, speaking with ABC affiliate WPBF 25 in West Palm Beach, said the chip is especially valuable "when it's an emergency."

"The FM chip is a valuable functionality, not just when times are good or when it helps you save battery life or reduces congestion on the wireless network, but especially when it's an emergency. People want to tune in to the radio broadcast and get emergency information and this can be a valuable way of doing that," said Pai.

In February, at the Future of Radio and Audio Symposium in Washington D.C., Pai said "radio is vital" when disaster strikes.

When disaster strikes, often knocking out cell networks and Internet service, over-the-air radio is a lifeline, providing the latest weather forecasts or directions on where to seek shelter or relief assistance. After hurricanes or tornadoes or fires or floods, time and again, we see an exponential surge in radio audiences.

He added that most consumers would enjoy the ability to access free content over the air, like music on FM radio stations, which some critics believe is a key reason why Apple hasn't enabled the functionality.

It seems odd that every day we hear about a new smartphone app that lets you do something innovative, yet these modern-day mobile miracles don't enable a key function offered by a 1982 Sony Walkman.

You could make a case for activating chips on public safety grounds alone. The former head of our Federal Emergency Management Administration has spoken out in support of this proposal. […]

Moreover, most consumers would love to access some of their favorite content over-the-air, while using one-sixth of the battery life and less data. As more and more Americans use activated FM chips in their smartphones, consumer demand for smartphones with activated FM chips should continue to increase.

Pai noted that he is a believer in free markets and the rule of law, and he thereby cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips, nor does he believe the FCC has the power to issue such a mandate.

Apple declined to comment on the report, and its stance on the activation of FM receivers in iPhones remains unclear.

Update: FCC chairman Ajit Pai has issued a statement that directly calls on Apple to "step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first" by activating the FM radio chip in iPhones, in light of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States. And I've specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so. In fact, in my first public speech after I became Chairman, I observed that ‘[y]ou could make a case for activating chips on public safety groundsalone.’ When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information. I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.

Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That's why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, 'Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on
it.'"

Update 2: MacRumors has received the following statement from an Apple spokesperson:

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. 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.

We'll update this article if the FCC responds to Apple's statement.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
36 months ago
They should enable it, simple as that. I have comments about Pai and the FCC but since this is not in that forum I wont say them. ;)
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
It would be a great feature to have especially when I am in a dead zone or overseas.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
Would have been nice when we lost power for a week after Irma here in Florida. I’m all for it.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
FM Radio might hurt Apple Music subscriptions, though. What to do...
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
I have never understood why this was not done a long time ago. Tuners in Phones was a standard practice at one time and made a lot of sense both for when no data link was available, in emergency situations as outlined above and generally for saving data bandwidth. The headphone on these phones always acted as the arial so not sure how this would be handled today in the Apple world where the headset has been removed.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
I live in Miami so it would have been nice. but apple doesn't get a cut of FM revenue.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iPhone 12 Sizes Compared with iPhone SE, 7, 8, SE 2, X, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max [Update]

Tuesday July 7, 2020 6:49 pm PDT by
Apple is planning on launching the iPhone 12 this fall which is rumored to be coming in 3 different sizes: 5.4", 6.1" and 6.7". The middle size (6.1") matches up with the currently shipping iPhone 11, but the other two sizes will be entirely new. Over the weekend, there was some excitement about how well the new 5.4" iPhone 12 compares to the original iPhone SE. Those who have been hoping...

Everything New in iOS 14 Beta 2: New Calendar Icon, Files Widget and More

Tuesday July 7, 2020 11:38 am PDT by
Apple today released the second beta of iOS 14 to developers for testing purposes, tweaking and refining some of the features that are coming in the update. Below, we've rounded up all of the changes that we found in the second beta. - Calendar icon - There's a new Calendar app icon in iOS 14 beta 2, with the day of the week abbreviated rather than spelled out. - Clock icon - The clock...

Hands On With iPhone 12 Models Showing New Sizes and Design

Monday July 6, 2020 2:04 pm PDT by
Ahead of the launch of new iPhones we often see dummy models created based on leaked schematics and specifications, with those models designed to let case makers create cases for the new devices ahead of their release. We got our hands on a set of dummy models that represent the iPhone 12 lineup, giving us our first close look at the iPhone 4-style design and the different size options. Subscri ...

Developer's Visual Comparison of macOS Catalina and Big Sur Offers Closer Look at Apple's UI Redesign for Macs

Tuesday July 7, 2020 4:00 am PDT by
macOS 11 Big Sur is the next major release of Apple's operating system for Mac, and following its preview at WWDC, one of the biggest discussions has revolved around the all-new user interface redesign. Developers are still learning what the impact the new UI will have on their apps, and with that in mind, app designer Andrew Denty has compiled an extensive visual comparison of the user...

Analyst Believes iPhone 12 Pricing Will Start $50 Higher Even Without EarPods or Charger in Box

Wednesday July 8, 2020 9:35 am PDT by
Despite multiple reports indicating that Apple will not include EarPods or a wall charger with iPhone 12 models this year, one analyst believes that pricing will still increase slightly compared to the iPhone 11 lineup. In a research note provided to MacRumors, analyst Jeff Pu forecasted that iPhone 12 pricing will start at $749 for a new 5.4-inch model, an increase of $50 over the base...

14-Inch MacBook Pro With Mini-LED Display Expected to Enter Production in 2021

Wednesday July 8, 2020 7:51 am PDT by
Apple suppliers will begin competing to win manufacturing orders for new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with Mini-LED displays in the first quarter of 2021, according to Taiwanese research firm TrendForce. Rumors of a 14-inch MacBook Pro have surfaced since Apple replaced the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a new 16-inch model last year. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has previously said that...

Apple Seeds First Betas of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 to Public Beta Testers

Thursday July 9, 2020 10:14 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public betas of upcoming iOS and iPadOS 14 updates to its public beta testing group, two weeks after first providing the updates to developers after the WWDC keynote and a day after seeding the second developer betas. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program can download the iOS/‌iPadOS‌ 14 updates over the air after installing ...

Apple's Arm-Based Macs With Apple Silicon Chips Will Support Thunderbolt

Wednesday July 8, 2020 3:14 pm PDT by
Apple is working on Macs that use its custom Apple-designed Apple Silicon chips instead of Intel chips, but Apple has committed to continuing to support Thunderbolt, reports The Verge. In a statement, an Apple spokesperson said that Apple's upcoming machines will offer support for Intel's Thunderbolt USB-C standard. "Over a decade ago, Apple partnered with Intel to design and develop...

Apple Cuts iPhone Trade-In Values as iPhone 12 Launch Nears

Tuesday July 7, 2020 7:46 am PDT by
With just two months to go until the usual timeframe for Apple's iPhone launch events, Apple is cutting back on maximum trade-in values of previous-generation iPhones for those looking to upgrade to a new model. Maximum values on more recent models have dropped by $30–$50, while older models have generally dropped by $5–$20 with a few models seeing no change in value.iPhone XS Max: $500 to...

Some iPhone Users Report Significant Battery Drain Due to Music App Background Activity in iOS 13.5.1

Wednesday July 8, 2020 1:49 am PDT by
A significant minority of iPhone users have taken to Apple's Support Communities and Reddit to report battery drain issues largely related to the Music app and high levels of background activity. Hundreds of users, many running iOS 13.5.1 on devices both new and old, are experiencing rapid battery drain when the Music app is not in use. In some cases, the background activity occurs over...