If you have an Android cellphone or mobile device, there’s a good chance you can use it to listen to live FM radio! That might not seem like news for someone who streams radio stations, but what we’re talking about here is actually listening to FM radio over the FM spectrum because there might be an FM chip in your cellphone.
A modern cellphone contains five to six radio chips:
- Near Field Communications (used, for example, for paying at a store pinpad)
- And, just maybe, an FM radio.
But the question remains: Why use the FM chip when it’s already so easy to stream your favorite station … such as WORT? Here’s why:
- Using the FM radio means that you aren’t incurring any data charges to your cellular plan. (You can have Wi-Fi and mobile data turned off completely and you’ll still receive radio signals.)
- The FM radio consumes far less power than the cellular or Wi-Fi radios, so you can listen while in power-saving mode.
- The quality of the signal is better because it isn’t compressed.
- You can listen anonymously to the radio without stations and third-parties knowing your IP address and location.
- Streaming apps might not include every local station, especially community-based low power stations such as WVMO-LP 98.7, WMUU-LP 102.9, WIDE-LP 99.1, WWMV-LP 95.5 and WLSP-LP 103.5.
- When the internet goes down, so does the streaming.
- When cellular coverage is congested or unavailable, the FM radio can provide life-saving information from local radio stations, as was the case recently in Northern California.
- With net neutrality repealed, ISPs can put streaming radio into the “slow lane” of the information superhighway.
How to Do It Now
Provided that you have an Android device with an FM chip, you can simply download a free application called NextRadio. The application will detect if there’s an FM chip in your telephone, activate it and let you tune in to local stations. If it doesn’t find an FM chip, then it will stream stations for you. The status is shown on the NextRadio home screen so you always know whether you’re tuned into broadcasts or streams. Your earphones act as an antenna, but remember you must be within broadcast range to listen to a station via the FM chip, just like with any portable or car radio. The app’s website has a comprehensive list of cellphones with the FM chip and wireless carriers that permit the chip to work. NextRadio has also organized a group (http://freeradioonmyphone.org/) and are joined by NPR and American Public Media to advocate for activating the FM chip in cellphones that have them deactivated.
For the moment, if you have a newer Apple iPhone, you’re out of luck…but you can always contact your carrier and the manufacturer to request that they resume installing and activating the FM chips.