rethinking the rethink

As noted here back in the dead of winter, I loved the idea of an FM radio chip in my phone, but didn’t use it all that much. I’ll stick by most of what I wrote, but experience is running somewhat contrary to theory this spring.

First, what I’m using: a dirt cheap, low end Windows phone. Windows phone is the only platform desperate enough to be even mildly serious about activating the FM chip most phones have, but don’t use. My two HTC phones had working radios; so does this Nokia Lumia 822. (Just trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?)

The great limiting factor is the fact that your headphone cord is also your antenna, and as you move around while walking, the signal can have issues. It annoyed me a lot last summer; this spring, not so much. A couple of things are in play: my default station is North Country Public Radio out of Canton, and they have a strong translator signal in my little town. That means the signal generally overrides whatever twists and turns I’m putting the headphones through.

Second, it’s actually faster and easier to turn on the FM signal – it’s one touch on the home screen of my phone and the station is just there. I use the TuneIn Radio app for streaming, and it can be 30 seconds before the stream comes up. Plus, as with all streaming, sometimes it just stops. The digital gods are no less capricious than the older gods of radio.

The trade is, I get little bursts of static. They really don’t bother me much when listening to voices. The other trade, and this is more bothersome, is that an ok signal on my car radio isn’t necessarily ok on my phone. WCNY FM has a translator here as well, but its signal is not nearly as strong as NCPR’s. So if I want to listen to music, as I did this morning, it’s back to streaming.

But mostly it’s NCPR, and the other thing that’s changed this year is me – I adjusted my walking schedule a little, which means I’m out in the evening when there’s programming on I like. The siren song of streaming apps is preference, the idea that you can always find something which suits your mood just a little better than whatever is on offer locally. If you’re going to listen to radio, you have to accept that you’re the passenger. With a few slight tweaks to when I walk, I’m happier being along for the ride.

Going forward, the problem for the few people who, like me, want radio on their phones is simple – getting it. At some point I’ll run out of patience with not having the apps I want, or the phone will be too slow, or Windows 10 will be not good on phones, or some combination of all. At that point, I’m back to having to buy an Android or iPhone, but as I understand it, only a very few Android phones on Verizon will support radio – and you have to download an app, maybe sacrifice a chicken – and the iPhone not all, which is ironic, considering the fact that iPhones have become significant tools for mobile, radio reporting.

Finally, what is missing here is any discussion of AM. I don’t know what would be involved, but I would pay for AM radio as a feature. Call me naive, but I remain hopeful someone(s) will find a way to make AM work again.


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