NextRadio: Making Radio Mobile Again

by Amber Robinson on December 16, 2013

Cell Phone Radio - NextRadioToday, we spend hours in cars, on trains, walking to our offices, jogging, and running errands. Our smartphones provide us with the means to live mobile. The Internet music and radio applications on our phones, our MP3 players, and our Ipods are not slowing us down. Why should radio broadcasts? Local radio has become almost stationary somehow, studies show. More and more of us are turning away from local broadcasts and swiping a button on our smartphones so that we can tune in to the music and podcasts trending across the nation.

When we power off the radio at home and head out in the morning, when we turn off the dial as we exit our cars, or when we sit down in the evening to tune in to a different type of broadcasting, radio is silent. Now, NextRadio is putting radio broadcasting back on its feet. Sprint is the first U.S. carrier to obtain NextRadio, the first mobile radio broadcast application. In October of this year, Sprint began offering NextRadio exclusively for the HTC EVO 4G LTE and HTC One, with plans to introduce the app to more devices in the near future.

T-Mobile has followed closely behind. With no marketing other than a press release, T-Mobile users downloaded about 3,500 NextRadio applications within the first six days. T-Mobile tallied 712 activated listeners, with an activation percentage of 20.3 percent and an average listening period of 24.2 minutes. Customer reviews regarding NextRadio’s performance reflected the ingenuity of this application: local radio has been “smartened” to meet the standards of the smartphone.

NextRadio offers a valuable listening experience that other Internet radio applications like Pandora cannot provide. It brings us home—local broadcast FM stations will pass through our phones with speed and without using up a significant amount of data. Now, we do not have to miss out on the local news coverage or the cultural programming unique to our communities. NextRadio is an appropriate innovation, which keeps us moving forward, without forcing us to leave local radio in the rearview.

As a hybrid radio model, NextRadio provides FM radio on a mobile platform. With TagStation cloud services, the radio industry can use the platform to manage album art and advertising that syncs with the broadcast. Customers can listen to local programming and music coverage at a lower cost of distribution than that of streamed content. The application provides real-time radio that is not buffered or delayed and has other interactive features like listener feedback, song tagging, and social networking.

The radio industry and the National Association of Broadcasters have been working to increase the number of cellphones activated with FM radio receivers. The state of local radio broadcasting is troubling, as indicated by the Pew Research Center findings that while the majority of Americans still listen to AM/FM radio weekly, as many as forty percent now listen to audio on digital devices. This figure is expected to double by 2015, and interest in traditional and HD radio is declining. Against this backdrop, the role of NextRadio in preserving localism and diversity for radio broadcasts appears even more essential.

The NAB and industry leaders have also taken into account concerns that radio broadcasts would slow down the phone, use up too much data, sap battery life, and stall often.  T-Mobile customers who used NextRadio in its initial launch noted that battery life was much improved over streaming content, and they experienced satisfactory reception in their areas. Some also commented on the small amount of data the radio application used.

NextRadio may also have a significant impact on minorities who will be able to access local minority-owned FM stations, which provide programming that caters to minority listeners. Both African-Americans and Latinos use smartphones at a rate that is higher than the national average (49 percent, compared to the national average of 46 percent). Thus, the widespread adoption of NextRadio by phone carriers, could have a significant impact in these communities.

We can all look forward to being able to tune in again to local radio broadcasting without sacrificing the convenience and time-saving experience of wireless communications.

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About MMTC:
The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving equal opportunity and civil rights in the mass media, telecommunications and broadband industries, and closing the digital divide. MMTC is generally recognized as the nation’s leading advocate for minority advancement in communications.

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