Cookie Notice

As far as I know, and as far as I remember, nothing in this page does anything with Cookies.


Every Now And Then, I Turn It On Again....

Slashdot reports that broadcasters and the RIAA are considering getting Congress to order FM radio into cellphones. On a tech level, I'm surprisingly OK with it. Cellphones already have GPS, cameras, MP3 players, keyboards, Wi-Fi, texting and email, plus a billion apps. I wonder if I can get an iPhone cover that makes it look like a Swiss Army knife.

And there was a time, once, long ago, where I would've loved to been able to have a programmable recording interface to radio. Something like this in my crontab.
0 17 * * 0 /usr/bin/radio-record -freq 98.9 -band fm -duration 60 # Blues hour of 98.9FM
But that was years ago. Honestly, the ONLY time I listen to radio these days is when my wife is driving, she only listens to talk radio and mostly listens to AM stations on the fuzzy edge of reception so that the experience is indistinguishable from white noise. And, notice, they want to have FM on phones. Not AM. There may be a technical reason. I kinda doubt it.

I have two issues with radio. First, there's variety. Within the classes of music I am interested in, radio gives me few choices. I have a greater chance of hearing a cool song I've never heard before in my MP3 directory than on the radio. And for many whole classes of music I like, there's no chance I can find it in my dial.

Then there's the advertising. I don't object categorically to advertising. I once did, but I don't anymore. I was taking an advanced editing course in J-school and was told that advertising was as much newspaper content as the news stories. I balked. Afterward, I had some downtime, opened up a copy of Maximum Rock'n'Roll and saw a Dischord Records ad showing that Fugazi had a new album coming out, and I was enlightened.

Taking it into a more computer-related forum, I can see on the back cover of the August issue of Maximum PC that you can get an Antec case that would allow you to hot-swap laptop-sized SATA drives out the front. We've hit drive sizes and data sizes where any personal backup choice besides putting it on a hard drive is too slow and too small to be practical, and here's a solution. This is Antec trying to sell me something. This is also news.

Radio is filled with ads trying to sell someone something, but it stopped selling stuff to me a long time ago.

The Slashdot audience dragged out the buggy-whip analogy, but I don't think that radio has no place in the 21st century. I think that cellphones would already have radios if there was a market for them. I think that Pandora on a smartphone will always sound better than an FM radio on a smartphone. It is the forcing of the issue that most bugs me, but I'm not

The thing I'd put into a cellphone if I had a choice is an LED flashlight. I've used the screens of my Palms and phones as a field-expedient light through many power outages before but would like more candlepower.


  1. There is a technical reason for FM over AM. Really, a few reasons. First, FM is local; AM is regional. AM bounces off the ionosphere, so you get ranges of hundreds of miles. FM is close to line-of-sight, so it's limited to dozens. If you're announcing a thunderstorm, it really only makes sense in the local sense.
    Why is this? Well, largely because AM operates on the 530-1710 KHz band, and FM operates on 88-108MHz. Lower frequencies bounce off the upper atmosphere, higher frequencies pass through it. This coincidentally carries on to the second reason; higher frequency means smaller wavelength (frequency = c/wavelength), which means smaller components. Smaller antennas. Smaller coils, smaller capacitors, etc. It's a lot easier to put an FM receiver in a space the size of a pencil eraser than it is to put an AM receiver there.
    We also get on to the third reason. The actual math of this part is beyond what I really understand, but in practice you get this: The amount of information you can move across any given medium is proportional to the bandwidth, that is, the wider the frequency chunk you're allowed to use, the more information. In the case of FM vs AM, the bandwidth allocated to AM stations is roughly 20 kHz. The bandwidth allocated to FM stations is roughly 200kHz. All other things being equal (which they really aren't, but for the purposes of this discussion, it's close enough) you could theoretically get 10 times as much information across the FM station. This translates into better audio quality, which is why it's pretty rare to hear a music-only AM station these days.

  2. The technical issues are interesting. You don't need large data chunks and stereo capability to tell me it's going to rain on me, though.

    I would suggest that, if it was all about local weather info, RIAA would have no horse in this.

    I was talking to Eric about this while we were walking last evening, and I looked up and noticed it was cloudy and looked like rain. I pulled out my phone and checked the local weather on, and Eric mentioned how that was a complete refutation of the NAB/RIAA point.

    He agrees with my point, that there are many things about having a radio in your phone that makes sense, but finds it kinda offensive and wrong to have the government force the issue. Govt forces GPS into all phones, too, but I guess that's different because I use that sometimes.