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When Weather and Unreliable Cell Service Collide


Mother Nature sure is helping make the case for the FM chip, and if broadcasters were wise they would seize on what just happened in Washington D.C. to continue to push that issue. You can find story after story about how cellular service was interrupted by the storm that swept through the nation's capital last Friday. Power was down, traffic lights were not functioning, cell companies were scrambling to repair broken towers and replace damaged cables. Through it all, WTOP was pushing out information, not only on the radio but through social media and online. Couldn't have asked for a better -- or worse -- collision of events. Washington lawmakers with no cell service, a system that failed, and radio station just doing what it does every day. We asked Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan, the muscle behind the FM cell chip push, to chime in after witnessing the Washington mess. Here's what he had to say.

"The recent storms that hit the Eastern Seaboard once again remind us of the remarkable service that Americas radio broadcasters provide during times of emergency. Once again, we demonstrated that our industry provides a lifeline for millions of people when their need is most critical. And once again, we have observed that when emergency strikes, the cellular system can never be a substitute for radio.

"There are several reasons why the cellular industrys claim that it can provide emergency information through its 90-character text system is nonsensical. First, ask anyone who has endured the recent storms in Washington, or those in Katrinas path, or those in the ice storms of Owensboro, or the tornadoes of Tuscaloosa or Joplin, if a 90-character text message was capable of providing lifesaving information. Of course, that assumes that the text message would even get through, and as we have observed over and over again, in the worst disasters, the power grid goes downand cellular service goes with it. Since most broadcasters have emergency generators, we have the ability to alert the public. Even if only a few broadcasters stay on the air, as was the case with Katrina, they can provide critical, nonstop information to citizens desperate for that information. Ask the people in any disaster-stricken area who provided continuous information, and invariably the answer is local radio.

"Of course, even if the power grid stays on, the wireless industry has a nearly impossible challenge in alerting the public. The reason: In a crisis, usage spikes as people try to locate their families, and this additional usage jams the phone system, making text and voice messages nearly impossible to get through. Again, ask anyone in an emergency how tough it was to get calls throughsuch as on 9/11 or during a major storm.

"Many in the public dont understand this issue because they believe they have access to radio through streaming audiowhich they do, until the system goes down or is jammed. At precisely the most critical times, the ability to listen to broadcast streams is impaired by the fragile nature of the wireless system.

"Since we know that well over a billion cell phones have activated FM radio chips all over the world, the question is: What is stopping this from happening here? Most consumers dont know that almost all smartphones have an embedded FM radio that has been turned off by the carriers in the United States. With an easy flip of a switch, millions of people could be prepared at the time of their greatest need. So you might ask, why doesnt the wireless industry just turn on the radios?

"The answer is frighteningly simple. When people listen to audio through the wireless system, they are consuming, and paying for, data. When they listen to radio on an embedded chip, the signal is free. As we enter into an era when unlimited data plans are ending, these data charges will start to skyrocket. The carriers recognize that this growing revenue stream can be curtailed by the use of free, local radio when consumers have a choice. Based on listening in other countries, we believe that radio usage will grow demonstrably when the chips are activated.

"Because we now have created HD/FM chips, broadcasters, and the wireless carriers, will be able to benefit by having enough radio spectrum to transmit coupons, location-based services, and all sorts of other information that can be immensely beneficial to consumers and profitable to broadcasters and the wireless carriers. We now believe there is a business proposition for the wireless industry that will be compelling in spite of their long-standing reluctance to activate the FM chips.

"Broadcasters need to remind their audiences that there are finally cell phones with activated radios, and that they need to ask their carriers about them. In the rest of the world, the carriers aggressively market these chips; in the U.S., they usually dont bother to inform their salespeople when they are in certain models. We also need to constantly remind our elected representatives that we provide the only option when it comes to protecting the public in emergencies. And we need to provide consumers with the news that there is an alternative to ever-growing data charges on their smartphones.

"Our industry has protected the lives and property of our listeners for over 90 years. We have the ability to reach many more of them when these chips are turned on. Neither our industry nor the American public can afford to wait any longer."

Jeff Smulyan is the CEO of Emmis.

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(7/8/2012 12:04:18 PM)
Jeff Smulyan, you are a LIAR!

I live in DC and I NEVER lost my wireless service with Sprint after the storm hit.

You have ZERO credibility (So what's new?).

The HD FM chip is dead and now you are so desperate to recover your wasted investment in Ibiquity you resort to outright lies & fabrications.

Look down and you will see that your pants are on fire!

You are such a 1 percenter scumbag.

- PandoraFanBoi

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