Sun Sentinel Slams Apple Over FM Chip


As residents of South Florida recover from Hurricane Irma The Sun Sentinel has published an editorial that the radio industry is going to love. The paper is calling on Apple CEO Tim Cook to activate the FM Chips that are inside Apple’s iPhones. The paper said Apple’s resistance on this issue is unacceptable. Apple refuses to flip the switch that would allow the iPhone to work like an FM radio, which would have been very helpful for many people who lost power during Irma.

The paper slammed Apple for paying more attention to profit, rather than safety. “No company’s bottom line should stand in the way of Floridians receiving life-saving information. Given our nation’s dependence on cell phones, the smartphone’s FM switch is a public safety issue. If Cuba can make manufacturers flip the switch, surely we can. If Apple refuses to switch, Congress must act. And given the communications black hole created by Irma, Florida’s congressional delegation should take the lead.”

The paper called on Cook to do the right thing. “Flip the switch. Lives depend on it. Our app and streaming addictions won’t disappear if we have the option of listening to FM radio. That’s why our earbuds are plugged into an iPhone, not a Walkman. We paid for these radio chips when we bought our pricey Apple phones. It’s time to let us turn them on.”


  1. Trouble is, iPhones do not have FM chips. Older cell chips (and many phones) processed FM as well, but phone radio today is mostly only cell or WiFi–or a radio.
    Instead of yelling at Apple to activate a non-existent FM chip (or antenna), yell at your toothbrush. It’s just as good at FM–as an FCC spokesman, of all people, ought to know.

  2. To Bill and others who refuse to accept Doc Searls well thought out answer, the laws of physics are immutable! If you were able to print a transparent fractal antenna on the entire surface of an iPhone’s display screen you might be able to provide an FM antenna that would work within city grade but only if not far from the FM transmitting tower. Such is the nature of antenna efficiency regarding size and wavelength. That said, if you want reasonable FM receiver sensitivity in a smart phone you need to provide an external antenna. So, unless Apple provides an antenna connection via its Lightning port or a wireless coupling point on the phone, activating the “FM chip” would be fruitless. You could push for legislation to force Apple to include FM in its iPhone products but they would have to re-engineer them to provide for an external antenna of sufficient length.

  3. There are new antenna technologies that allow for very small antennas to duplicate the performance of wires. Many countries other than the US mandate FM chips in phones, and the manufacturers seem to be able to comply. I don’t see how the lack of an earphone jack is much of an impediment.

  4. I have been at several rallies/protests over the last few months where it has been useful to have an FM radio via my android … I have been too far away in the crowd to hear the speakers but they were being broadcast on a local FM radio station. Streaming radio via cell-phone was impossible because cell-reception was non-existent because of the huge crowds.

  5. We need to get this done. Not only is it about saving lives, it will breathe more life into Radio. We need to pressure the FCC and the NAB to pull out the stops. Let’s make Radio great again.

  6. My Android smartphone works just fine on receiving FM and/or NextRadio local stations over the air with earbud plugin.
    Forget iPhone!! Why get an iPhone, when the android smartphone FM solution is available and working RIGHT NOW?!?!?!
    Make the switch to Android smartphone and let iPhone go to where it belongs-the trash heap.

  7. While I appreciate the long explanation by Doc Searles, when an area is offline, none of the new technology matters. I think the Sun Sentinel got it right when they nail Apple for choosing profit over safety. If Tim Cook et al are the techno wizards they profess to be, they should certainly be able to engage FM radio through their devices.

  8. Apple made FM tuning a feature of iPod Nanos from the 5th through the 7th generation of those products. But the market for Nanos faded and Apple discontinued them this summer.

    If Apple turned on the FM chip and shipped an FM tuning app with its new mobile devices, it is likely that neither would work very well. That’s because Apple no longer ships mobile devices with a headphone jack, and it’s the headphone cord that the device’s FM circuit uses for an antenna. I don’t know for sure if the built-in tuner will know how to use a headphone cord through the lightning connector used for charging, but I suspect it doesn’t.

    See, here’s the problem: FM waves are much longer than those used for cellular and wi-fi connections, and work best with antennas about 30 inches long, which is why headphone cords can do the job. Cellular and wi-fi antennas can be small enough to fit into the innards or the cases of a phone. Cellular and wi-fi circuitry are also built to deal with digital signals that are extraordinarily weak compared to those of old-fashioned AM and FM. Those are also still analog, even when they do “HD,” and are affected by noise generated by digital circuits. That’s one reason electric cars such as the Tesla have no AM radio.

    There is also nothing in Apple’s new operating systems that addresses FM reception as a feature, and it is unlikely that Apple will want to add it, given the worldwide coverage the Internet gives every radio station. There is also the gradual abandonment of over-the-air broadcasting in general by young people—and, let’s also admit it, of commercial broadcasting as well.

    People can still prepare for hurricanes and other disasters with portable radios and extra batteries. Together those will do a better job for listeners than iPhones that will be dead in 10 hours of steady use anyway.

  9. Why broadcasters continue to support Apple by purchasing iPhones is beyond me. Clearly it’s more important to Apple to be able to superimpose a VR tyrannosaurus rex on a video than to save lives during a natural disaster.


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