There's an FM radio hidden inside of most smartphones, even though most phones in the US don't actually allow you to use it. But soon, they may start working if you're on AT&T. AT&T is starting to ask phone manufacturers to turn on the FM radios inside of their phones. A person familiar with the matter tells The Verge that AT&T isn't making radio activation a requirement, despite what some news releases are saying. Still, it could have a big impact: for the most part, FM receivers seem to be turned off because carriers want it that way. Now that AT&T wants them turned on, there's a decent chance of that happening.
The general thinking is that FM radios have been turned off to encourage data usage, which carriers can make money off of. So why the change? It's possible that AT&T is getting a cut of ads or music sales from NextRadio, an FM radio app that it seems to be supporting. NextRadio worked with Sprint to get it to support FM activations back in 2013, so this isn't unprecedented; radio activation is also something that NPR and the National Association of Broadcasters have been pushing for. Regardless of why AT&T is now starting to push for FM radio, it's good news for smartphone owners. FM radio is free and doesn't require an internet connection. It's also a news source — and it could be a critical one during an emergency.