Right now, radio stations only pay royalties to the original songwriters for the music that goes out over the air, not to whoever owns the actual performance of the song. (This is a key distinction because usually the record labels own the performance recording rights, not the artist.) If the labels have their way, radio will be forced by Congress to start paying up.
The interesting thing is that the compromise isn’t exactly between just radio and the record labels. Broadcasters want Congress to mandate consumer electronics manufacturers to include an FM radio chip in every portable device sold in the US.
(cue to a shot of tech companies going “whaaa?” with a surprised look)
“The backroom scheme of the [National Association of Broadcasters] and RIAA to have Congress mandate broadcast radios in portable devices, including mobile phones, is the height of absurdity,” thundered CEA president Gary Shapiro. Such a move is “not in our national interest.”
“Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace, NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do.”
Now, it’s quite obvious with declining record sales and radio ratings that the NAB and RIAA are on sinking ships. I get that it’s a patently absurd mandate to place on tech firms who shouldn’t have to worry about bailing out the flailing radio and records industries.
But from a consumer perspective, would you really mind having access to an FM radio on your iPod or cell phone? I mean let’s put aside the fact that most terrestrial radio stations put out some poor product. (With a larger audience, maybe more programming chances could be taken. Playlists could widen. Songs could repeat less in a given time period.) Sometimes it’s just easier to put on a radio station and just start listening to music than it is to create a playlist on your own.
Say you’re bored waiting somewhere where there’s no cell reception. Chances are that you’ll still get FM radio reception at the least. It’s old technology, but it’s still probably more reliable than AT&T’s network. Entertainment problem solved.
Of course, this all goes out the window if our iPods and cell phones are suddenly $20 more to buy. But how much can an FM tuner chip cost these days?
All things being equal as a consumer, I feel that it’s a “why not” option for mobile devices. I haven’t had a portable radio since high school. Sometimes I wish I had one, especially when there’s a ball game to listen to and I’m not home. As long as our devices look, function, and cost the same, sure, put an FM tuner in there. We got nothing to lose, right?