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Radio and TV station executives and industry groups are seeking to get chips inserted into mobile handsets to extend the reach of their respective programming. And they may do it with federal help as a public safety issue.

Emmis Communications President and CEO Jeff Smulyan, speaking at WMS ’09 in Washington, D.C., said radio chips beat cell towers in cases of emergency communications, and can be put into every mobile phone for 50 cents or less — a message he had just been pushing in a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. The entire installation would be just $1 to $2 per phone.

“Cell systems jam,” said Smulyan. “They’re only geared to take calls from 32 percent of the population, or something like that. But in an emergency, that goes up to 90 percent.”

The radio chip would have natural business extensions for the radio industry, in addition to providing emergency communications, added Smulyan. “It would change the perception of the [radio] industry as a dinosaur.” And it  would be in the public interest because it would defend radio’s localism. “If you hear a song on the radio [over your phone], you could download it,” he said. “That’s just one application we’re talking about.”

Radio over a mobile phone would also be more appealing than streaming over the Internet because “streaming is very expensive. You have to serve the whole world. But with a chip, you would only serve your local marketplace.”

Meanwhile, the TV folks are also itching to get a chipset onto mobile devices. Anne Schelle, executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, said digital TV viewing is measurable, has unlimited capacity and costs less than a penny an hour for each viewer. It stands in stark contrast to dedicated mobile video channels, which can only handle 25 streams at a time, and have network costs of $4 an hour.

Jerry Fritz, senior vice president, Allbritton Communications, said broadcasters have the right plan, but the logistics will be a challenge. “You have to have five things go together,” he said. “You have to develop the measurement of mobile use. You have to have the manufacturer install the chip. And the broadcaster has to acquire the bandwidth.”

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