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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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Radio and mobile phones

Posted on Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 at 11:15 pm. #

Listening to the radio

What do you use your mobile phone for? Angry Birds, obviously, but excepting that, you probably use it for email, the odd phone call, a text message or two, and the occasional bit of web browsing.

Among the highs and the lows of the new RAJAR figures, UK radio’s quarterly listening survey, comes news of another use of a mobile phone… as a radio.

17% of adults aged 15+ say they’ve listened to radio via a mobile phone: a figure that’s up by almost a quarter year-on-year. For 15-24s, over a third claim to have listened to the radio in this way. This figure’s growing, particularly for older, 25+ listeners.

Is this good news for radio?

This figure from RAJAR doesn’t break out the method of listening. In the UK there are a fair amount of mobile phones available with an inbuilt FM chip; but it’s a reasonable estimate to assume that much of this listening is done through mobile phone apps.

Radio stations promote their mobile phone apps heavily on-air. They can monetise their audience in this way by displaying advertising and, in some cases, forcing user registration. Use of GPS can give stations valuable information about where audiences are listening, which could make advertising more relevant. (Imagine an ad for Tesco that directs you to your nearest branch).

Most importantly, the user experience through a mobile phone app is a colourful and enjoyable one. The big colour screen on a mobile phone can add visual accompaniment to radio; simple ways for audiences to get more information, latest football scores, or news headlines.

For audio delivery, FM is clearly a better way to listen to the radio. It’s free, and there are no bandwidth costs. It’s great for battery life, since you don’t need to use the battery-sapping 3G connection to tune in. It’s good quality, assuming you can get a signal. However, the user experience on a mobile phone is not good. An FM tuner on a phone normally displays a big number – a station’s frequency – and, normally, little else. On almost every FM-equipped mobile phone I’ve used, the FM app is easily the worst, most clunky app on the phone. It certainly won’t get digital natives listening.

It’s clear that people want to listen to the radio on their mobile phone – and the increased audience figures for this method of listening is heartening for the future of the medium. The radio broadcasters might consider whether focusing on exclusively 3G connections is a future-proof approach: or whether hybrid radio, using broadcast FM radio together with an enhanced experience via the internet, is particularly applicable for a device like a mobile phone.


Martin Steers
commenting at May 17th, 2012 at 9:36 am

I have listened both ways, I have a HTC Desire. I do find the FM tuner frustrating as it has a high? tolerance for scanning meaning it rarely find anything by scanning and I have to poke around manually to find it. Also the quality isnt great, but I assume for using “random plugged in headphone socket” as the Ariel doesnt help.

App wise I have used globals (LBC mainly), absolutes and ones like canstreamer (CMA).. I cant wait till the radioplayer one..

However by hybrid I assume you might mean something radioDNS like.. I would love an app like this, one that uses FM and internet combined.. and I would love the user experience of my radio switching between the two without me really noticing depending which ever one is stronger. But apparently HTC’s at the moment are not compatible with radioDNS, and not sure if phone makers are being engaged with by the digital radio roadplan lot..


Ben Poor
commenting at May 17th, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Its definitely fair to say FM apps on mobile phones could be better.

What would help is more pressure from the radio industry to mobile manufacturers to put proper FM APIs on their various platforms so that people can write their own apps if they wish.

Probably what you mean by HTC not being compatible with RadioDNS, Martin, is that there is no available API for the FM chip on their devices, but then the same is true of any Android Device.

Symbian had one, but that was fairly limited support, Windows Mobile doesn’t have one, iPhones will most likely never have one.

The notable exception here is Blackberry which has a defined FM API in BBOS 7.1, and even several phones that are (shock!) *available to purchase* which have an FM chip. Their FM app isn’t half bad either.

Brian Butterworth
commenting at May 17th, 2012 at 12:43 pm

As I have a Google Nexus, I must admit I use TuneIn Radio Pro and the nearest Wifi most of the time, and even over 3G as I have an “all you can eat” deal with 3.


I would love a DAB phone – I miss my Virgin Lobster for that reason alone.

commenting at May 17th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

It’s all about the Money-Money-Money ? Why wouldn’t they develop an app that didn’t bombard me with adverts ?

I love listening to BBC FM Radio on the phone. It saves me on the long daily train commute. On my route (Cambs -> Herts -> London) the 3G signal simply isn’t solid enough for TuneIn or Iplayer….so FM works OK, even though I have to re-tune 2 times an hour to specific frequencies to get my fav stations….at least I know when to re-tune….and it never just drops completely like 3G or DAB.

FM signal strength is far more reliable in the sticks than current 3G or HSDPA or GPRS…which are on a par with MW radio !?! Maybe T-rays will be the FM for our generation ?

What is the point of DAB in the face of 3G or 4G ?

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