How To Listen to FM Radio on Android
Think of all the ways you can listen to music in 2017. Maybe you’re a purist who still prefers to listen to music downloaded directly to an MP3 player. Perhaps you’ve gone retro and have managed to collect a large library of vinyl records to use with your home stereo and record player. In the car, you stream Pandora Radio or Spotify through your car via Bluetooth. Of course, all of these things, whether it be downloading songs, purchasing CDs or records, paying for a monthly Spotify account or using your data to stream Pandora, cost some amount of money, and for certain users, that’s just a no-go when it comes to listening to music. And sure, music piracy still exists, but for many users, it’s too much of a hassle to find your favorite songs on shady virus-laden websites—not to mention the legal hassles if you get caught by your ISP downloading music illegally.
For plenty of users, classic terrestrial FM radio is still the way to go for listening to their music. Receiving an FM signal isn’t something that every phone can do, because not every mobile device has a built-in receiver. That said, every single Android device is capable of receiving an FM stream in one way or another, and plenty of your favorite stations have presumably already joined several FM radio streaming apps that make it easy to listen to your favorite stations on the go, no matter where you are in the world. FM radio is far from dead, so let’s take a look at how you can listen to your favorite FM stations right from your Android device.
Understanding FM Receivers and Android
If you’ve ever looked up the spec sheet for your Android device, there’s a good chance you’ve seen that your phone model has a built-in FM receiver inside of the device. Dozens of Android handsets have these built-in receivers, and it isn’t just unlocked models meant for the rest of the world. Phones from manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Motorola all have FM receivers included in their phones, but it often goes unmentioned in any of the press information for phones when released. Some spec sheets even leave off information about the FM receiver; GSMarena, for example, doesn’t list FM radio capability on their spec sheets at all.
FM receivers are fairly common in phones, presumably thanks to the shared Qualcomm chipset that most devices share with each other today. Your phone, assuming it’s been created within the last few years, should have the capabilities to connect to FM signals and bring broadcasts straight to your ears, without using an ounce of data and while consuming much less battery on your phone than if you were streaming over mobile data.
Does Your Phone Have an FM Receiver?
The chances that your phone has an FM receiver included in the device is incredibly high. Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, and even Apple all include FM receivers in their smartphones. The unfortunate problem, of course, is that not every device model has their FM receivers enabled and ready for use. Most manufacturers do not include an application to let you listen to the radio on your phone anyway, which means you might be out of luck if you don’t have an application to do so. For the most part, Android manufacturers have been getting better about enabling FM radios in their devices, and though they don’t include the software to receive the broadcasts, it’s still possible to connect to a signal. On the other hand, Apple has refused calls to enable the FM radios in their iPhones, though there’s a reason for this: they stopped including the module in their phones after the iPhone 6S.
Still, this is a guide on using FM radios with Android devices, and those of us who use Android should count ourselves lucky. There are over 200 different devices on the market today that can use their FM receivers, and considering many of these devices constitute some of the most popular phones on the planet, Android or otherwise, plenty of our readers will be able to use their phones to listen to the radio while on the move or just around their house. Here’s the bad news, of course: even if your phone has an active FM receiver, your carrier may have blocked access to the chip in your phone. This will more or less depend on your carrier, but using the list we’ve provided below, you’ll want to pay attention to the carrier you bought your phone through to make sure your FM receiver is active. Carrier’s don’t really have a set motivation for this; some carriers, like Verizon, seem to just activate the radio when they feel like it, but other carriers (as well as unlocked devices) are active without restriction.
Here’s a short list of some of the devices that include an active FM receiver, including specific carriers. We’ll provide a full list later in the guide.
- Samsung Galaxy S6 (Sprint, Boost Mobile)
- Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge (Sprint only)
- Samsung Galaxy S7 (All major carriers and unlocked models)
- Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (All major carriers and unlocked models)
- Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ (All major carriers and unlocked models)
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (All major carriers and unlocked models)
- LG G5 (Sprint only)
- LG G6 (All four national carriers)
- LG V20 (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile)
- LG V30 (All major carriers and unlocked models)
- Moto G4 and G4 Plus (unlocked)
- Moto G5 Plus and G5S Plus (unlocked)
- Moto E4 (unlocked)
As we mentioned, this is a fairly shortened list with some of the most popular Android phones on the market, and if you want more information on the devices that can use their FM radios, continue onto the section below.
How to Listen to FM Radio with a Receiver
Here’s the first thing you need to know about listening to FM radio on your Android phone: if you want to use your phone to listen to FM radio using the built-in receiver, you’ll need to use headphones to do it. This doesn’t mean you can’t use workarounds to broadcast the signal to a Bluetooth speaker, but it does mean that you’ll have to keep a pair of headphones handy in order to properly listen to the radio. Though your phone does have a built-in FM radio receptor in the body of your device, you won’t find an included antenna, like all radios need. The lack of antenna means something needs to be used to properly pick up on the signal being broadcasted by stations in your area, and that’s where your headphones come in. The wire with your headphones is used to as that antenna, and without your headphones, you won’t be able to receive a signal.
We should mention that we haven’t tested USB-C headphones on this device, but considering that most USB-C headphones and dongles use digital audio, you should assume that they won’t work for this. Same goes for headphone splitters to use audio out and headphones for a signal; in our tests, using a headphone splitter simply resulted in problems receiving a signal entirely.
Choosing Software for Your Device
So, as we pointed out above, even if your phone includes an FM receiver and has no issues picking up a signal, you’ll still need to use the right piece of software to convert those radio waves into listenable content. This means you’ll need to download a dedicated FM radio application from Google Play, and you have a few distinct choices on which one you want to pick up. Radio FM seems to be incredibly popular, calling itself the number one downloaded FM radio app, but the user interface leaves a lot to be desired, and it puts a lot of wait on being able to stream radio stations rather than using the included FM receiver in your phone. TuneIn is another great choice, but considering that it relies on using your data, we’ll talk more about that below. For users looking to pick up standard FM radio stations, we have to recommend going with NextRadio, an app developed, in part, by both NPR and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). NextRadio’s website is where you can find the full list of supported devices, available here.
The NextRadio app is pretty solid, with an updated visual design and support for a large selection of modern devices, as you can see from the linked list and the bulleted list above. The app tunes directly into the FM waves being broadcasted in your area, which means there’s no delay in listening and everything can be heard as it unfolds live. Compared to apps that stream over the internet, NextRadio offers a far-more standard radio experience. The app is completely free, doesn’t require a subscription, but does offer advertisements both along the bottom of the application and, of course, when you’re listening to stations.
To set the app up, install it from the Google Play Store and allow the app to access your location upon its first installation, in order to properly find the correct list of stations for you. This will display a list of the stations in your area, offering everything from “Adult Hits” to “Classic Rock,” “Country” to “Hip-hop.” You can add or subtract as many stations to your list as you want, though if you’re looking for the most complete list of stations in your area, you’ll want to add every station listed as being available in your region. When you’re done favoriting stations, hit the Done icon to boot into the app. All of your favorites will be listed automatically within the app, and you can scroll through your list to find the stations near you. Alternatively, you can also use the search function to look for stations all around the country, using both their names and their call IDs, but take note that, if the station isn’t within reach, NextRadio will default to streaming through the web.
It’s a good idea to dive into the settings menu of your device to make sure everything is tuned to your preferences. Tap on the menu icon in the top-left and select the settings menu from the bottom of this list. This will load a list of preferences on your device, including “FM only mode,” which disables the ability to stream stations from around the world (and also requires you to use headphones to listen to your stations) and a setting to enable streaming only on WiFi, a good middle-ground if you’re looking for a way to use the app as normal without sacrificing the ability to search for worldwide stations and simultaneously saving you some of your data. You can choose whether or not to prefer the station stream over the FM signal; however, this is off by default. Finally, you can choose to enable “Seek through favorites,” which allows you to navigate through your selected favorite stations through both the app widget and notification. Some other settings of note include notifications and emergency alerts, the latter of which can be setup using your postal code, and is powered by Alert FM. If you choose to enable this setting, you’ll receive push notifications and alerts from the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the National Weather Service (NWS).
Once you’ve set your proper preferences for how you want to listen to the radio, you can return back to your favorites list using the menu. If you don’t have headphones plugged in, you’ll see some of your stations greyed out and only accessible by plugging in headphones; this means there’s no online stream available for these networks, and you’ll have to use headphones to listen to that mix. We should also mention that the search function in the app only seems to show suggestions from the United States; searching for several radio stations in Canada seemed to net no results. If you’re planning on listening to out-of-country radio stations, you’ll want to follow down our guide to the next section.
The act of playing a station is pretty straightforward. You click on the listing in your feed to start listening, and it defaults to either the digital stream or the analog broadcast depending on your preference set within the settings menu. You’ll want to pay attention to the placement of both your phone and your headphones, as well as any electronics that happen to be nearby you that could cause some amount of interference within the broadcast. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, it might be worth completely disabling the FM streams and relying on the digital stream, assuming there is one. Some stations seem to be clearer than others, and it truly depends on the frequency of your desired stations. Luckily, there’s the option to switch to the online stream available directly within your app, and it’s as easy as tapping on the triple-dotted menu icon in the top-right corner and selecting “Stream Station.” This will move you to the digital stream for your station, where you can unplug your headphones and use external speakers without issues. Keep in mind that there could be a delay of up to thirty seconds when listening to a digital stream, and remember that you’ll be using data to stream your content.
Here’s the good news, however: you’ll notice that, within this menu, there’s also an option to output sound straight from your phone speaker. This means you can listen to the radio on your phone’s speaker without having to keep your headphones in, which makes it perfect for using in emergencies and listening to sports games with friends when doing something else. Here’s the bad news: despite the ability to output sound to your phone’s speaker, NextRadio cannot output audio to a Bluetooth speaker. Here’s NextRadio’s statement on Bluetooth from their FAQ: “Most mobile devices do not have the ability to send analog audio from the FM receiver to Bluetooth output. Because streaming audio is digital and comes over the Internet, it is available to send over Bluetooth. Currently, a few Motorola and Kyocera devices are able to send analog FM audio over Bluetooth. We hope more device manufacturers add this capability in the future.”
Overall, NextRadio is a fantastic way to listen to the radio on your mobile device, though we only recommend it if your phone has the capabilities of listening to FM audio. The app is well-designed, but it’s also a bit less feature-packed than some of the apps designed solely for streaming FM stations on the web. The ability to listen to the stations through your phone’s speaker is an excellent addition, and the missing features from the app can largely be chalked up to the inability to stream analog audio to digital speakers. Most of the flaws, in fact, come down to the dated utility of FM stations; poor reception is almost always caused by some form of interference around you, not so much the app. Still, NextRadio represents a great utility for any of the devices that have functioning, activated FM radios—namely Samsung and LG devices—and is a must-have app for those phones. Of course, if you’d rather stream your audio online without using FM bands, or your phone doesn’t support analog FM radio, you aren’t out of luck.
How to Listen to FM Radio without a Receiver
Even if your phone has an FM receiver built into the body of the device, there’s a good chance you might not be able to use it to listen to the radio in your area. For example, as more and more phones move away from including a headphone jack, including flagships from Google and Motorola, there’s going to be no way to use your headphones as antennas. Even so, phones like the first-generation Google Pixels just don’t have the ability to use their FM receivers (assuming they’re included; there’s also a good chance that these newer devices simply omit the FM adapters, similar to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models that are missing them), and therefore, you’ll have to start relying on your data connection to listen to the radio.
Thankfully, a large percentage of radio stations around the country have moved to online streaming, making it easy to listen to your favorite stations from back home even when you’re halfway around the world. These streams don’t require using headphones, which means you’re free to hook up the streamed versions of your favorite radio feeds. You can use NextRadio to stream radio stations on the web, as we covered above, but we suggested using an app like TuneIn Radio instead. Though TuneIn doesn’t have the same basic FM capabilities as NextRadio, it’s the better-looking application, and offers more streams on their service than nearly every other app on the Play Store, including more than 100,000 AM and FM streams, podcast support, and content from NPR, CNN, BBC, and ESPN.
In general, TuneIn is actually a fairly responsive application, with a much better design than what we’ve previously seen from apps like NextRadio. It does have banner ads along the bottom, but keeps them relatively hidden throughout the interface. TuneIn’s home screen looks fairly similar to what we’ve seen from iTunes, with a rotating carousel of suggested shows and Top 10 lists descending below. In that list, you’ll find content like sports, podcasts, news shows, commercial-supported music stations customized by TuneIn, and more. If you were new to TuneIn, you might actually have a hard time figuring out whether the app can be used for traditional radio stations, but as we’ve seen with plenty of music-focused apps in the Play Store, TuneIn has tried hard to expand its own content lineup to include exclusive shows and stations.
To find your favorite FM stations, you’ll want to either select the search function, or open up the menu and head to browse. If you know which FM station you’re looking for, the search bar along the top of the screen is easy to use. Just type in the name of the station you’re looking for and hit search, and the station results should return relatively quickly. TuneIn has a fairly-wide variety of stations, including stations that we weren’t able to find on NextRadio like Toronto’s Indie88. Finding stations might be hard if you’re unsure of what you’re looking for, so just have an idea of what stations you want to tune into before you dive into the app. In the browse menu, there’s a Location option to browse through radio stations in your area, and though it isn’t as intuitive as just allowing the app to find your location, as you can do on NextRadio, it does allow you to dive into areas that aren’t your own—like, say, your hometown radio stations.
The player app is pretty sparse; most FM stations show their logo on the now-playing screen, before loading the artwork for the song currently broadcasting online and showing the name of the song on the top of the player. There are no banner advertisements along the bottom of the display, but you will find that a pop-up advertisement loads over the album artwork on your display. The only way to remove these ads is to upgrade to a TuneIn Premium membership, which includes premium stations from the NBA, MLB, and NFL, ad-free music stations built by TuneIn, and even a selection of audiobooks you can listen to on the go. The premium plan costs $9.99 per month, with a seven-day subscription trial available. There’s also a Pro version of TuneIn available on the Play Store that costs users $9.99 upfront, and limits you to only gaining access to the ad-free radio stations and the record option for downloading music from your favorite stations. Finally, we should mention that battery drain using TuneIn was much higher than what we’ve seen on NextRadio, even with NextRadio streaming. If you can manage to use local FM with headphones for NextRadio, you’re likely to have a much-longer listening experience.
Reports of the death of FM radio have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, FM radio numbers have fallen, and younger consumers have begun to move away from the platform as a way to listen to their music, opting instead for streaming options on their phone like Spotify or Apple Music. YouTube, Pandora, and even XM radio have all taken some of the listenership away from FM stations, both in the home and in the car. But FM is far from dead, having accounted for about 35 percent of the general population, regardless of age. Though there may come a day when FM radio stations are done away with thanks to the rise in streaming options, we’re a long way out from that ever happening.
Apps like NextRadio and TuneIn allow smartphone users to still listen to FM radio, both over the air and using the internet. NextRadio in particular is a great application for phones that still have access to their FM chips, allowing users to tune into a station and listen over headphones or by using their device’s speaker. Whether it’s for free listening around the house or to allow for listening to FM stations in times of emergency, the ability to pick up broadcast radio stations on phones that support them is a godsend, and something not enough users know about. TuneIn, of course, also allows you to pick up a wide variety of stations streaming around the world, not just in your area. This discovery means sound is crystal clear and external speakers are supported for listening. Of course, these streams also drain your battery faster than using a standard FM receiver, and won’t work without internet connectivity. Still, both NextRadio and TuneIn allow Android users to begin listening to their favorite FM stations on a device that’s always in their pocket, which is, in some ways, a small miracle. Not everyone wants to hold onto their FM stations, but for the folks that do, both NextRadio and TuneIn are must-have applications.