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Promising signs for AM and FM Radio in 2014

Radio broadcasters have reason to be optimistic on a couple fronts as the FCC undertakes efforts to revitalize the AM band and consumers increasingly tune into FM radio on cellphones via the Sprint FM chip initiative championed by Emmis’ Jeff Smulyan and Paul Brenner.

The FCC last week took comments and suggestions on Commissioner Ajit Pai’s signature policy effort to reduce interference for AM radio stations and provide new tools to ensure their viability in the media marketplace.  Among the potential tools identified by the FCC in its call for comments is making FM translators available to as many AM licensees as possible.

TAB was the first advocacy group to embrace Pai’s effort after he announced his intentions at the NAB Radio Show in Dallas in 2012, with Bryan Broadcasting’s Ben Downs providing key insight into some of the initial proposals that proved unworkable.

While the comment deadline has passed, there is no timeline for final action by the commission. For that reason, TAB and other state broadcast associations urged in joint comments to adopt expeditiously any proposals that are otherwise sound and logically severable from the overall rulemaking, instead of waiting for the completion of the proceeding to resolve each and every one.

On the FM side, the industry’s partnership with Sprint is paying dividends as the number of listeners skyrockets and the variety of devices with an activated FM chip and preloaded NextRadio app broadens.  Of the most recent numbers announced, possibly the most important is that the 300-plus radio stations running interactive capability through TagStation are getting twice as much NextRadio FM smartphone listening because of the engagement with the mobile user.  Also promising is the auto industry’s favorable response to the technology as a potential industry solution to dashboard concerns.

Other key numbers:

  • New FM-enabled smartphones are estimated at 600,000 since August 2013 launch. Growth rates are accelerating.
  • Nine different smartphones are sold with NextRadio FM tuners. Approximately 15 FM smartphone models will launch in early 2014. These include substantially all of Sprint’s Android phones:  HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, ZTE, and Kyocera. Other manufacturers and models with be announced later.
  • 129,000 users have activated NextRadio (launched at least one time) out of the 600,000 preloaded phones.
  • Average listening retention of the activated user is 32% and that number goes up to 55% for listeners tuned to stations with album art and interactivity, showing a direct correlation between listening habits and enhanced programming. Sprint says our app retention and user retention are above average.
  • Over 6,400 FM stations, and growing, are being tuned to from NextRadio.
  • Google Play reviews are consistently good with a rating of 4.2 stars. Users like the app, local radio and reduction in battery power and data consumption.
  • Google Play user submitted reviews are frequently critical of the lack of interactivity on radio stations. This can be solved by radio stations supporting RadioDNS or signing up for TagStation.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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