In the wake of tragic losses brought on by the Napa Valley wildfires and similar destruction from recent hurricanes, especially in terms of lives, support for activation of the FM chip in cell phones has grown, placing the issue front and center not only with the industry, but among consumers, too.
Newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Sun Sentinel have added their voices (and we thank them) to the chorus from the radio industry, federal, and local public safety officials, the FCC, and many major phone manufacturers — with one huge, notable exception: Apple.
The arguments are well documented, and the NAB continues to aggressively spotlight the importance and many advantages of the FM chip, including its potential to literally save lives. From content to delivery, no other medium does a better job than radio in disseminating vital news and information, or does it as quickly and reliably.
But a voice is heard only by those who are aware and know where to listen. Today, there is a generation of “digital natives” who have been plugged into social media, cell phones, and shiny new tech-driven platforms since birth. And while there is evidence that they do continue to use radio and discover music on the medium, you have to wonder if they would think to first tune to radio in times of disaster or critical emergencies. If they have an FM chip-enabled smartphone, have they accessed the radio function?
Those who are parents have probably gone down a checklist and reviewed safety tips “in case of emergency” with their children, no matter their age. Where to go, who to call, and what to do usually top the list. That list should also include teaching them about the importance of radio — and how to access it – in times of crises.
As an industry, that responsibility falls to us as well. But it calls for thinking outside the radio box and extending the message “board” beyond our airwaves, heavily involving social media outlets to target a younger generation who may not completely realize the limitations of their cell phones and what those limitations could mean during emergencies. In other words, we have to take this campaign to where they live — Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media sites – in order to spread the word that radio might be the only source for receiving vital information and news at critical times. And they need to know that if their phone doesn’t have an FM chip, they may be stranded without important, even lifesaving, information. For that reason, like bottled water, non-perishable food, and first aid supplies, a portable radio and batteries should be part of every emergency kit. There is no better example of that than Puerto Rico.
And so, we need to call on our collective, creative resources and make sure the message of radio’s ability to serve as a lifeline is delivered and impressed upon everyone, young and old alike, across the country. Added to the growing chorus of industry and other professional voices, the loud, insistent, demanding cry of consumers might help pressure Apple to rethink its position on the FM chip in future iPhone models. More important, it might help save a few more lives.
Deborah Parenti is the Publisher of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]