How to Use FM Radio on Your iPhone or Android

Listen for pleasure or stay safe during disaster situations

A man listening to FM radio on his phone

Maskot / Getty

When you can easily carry around a massive digital library, subscribe to a music streaming service, or even stream radio stations from around the world, listening to FM radio on your phone might seem like a step backward. It's true that FM radio is inherently more limited than your other listening options, but it has one massive benefit: FM radio is more likely to be available in an emergency than cellular data service.

There are a ton of FM radio apps out there, for both iPhone and Android, but they only work when you have a functional data connection. Without working cellular data or Wi-Fi, FM radio apps are useless.

That's why a phone that has a built-in FM radio receiver, and an app that's capable of accessing that receiver, can be so useful in an emergency situation.

The information below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

FM Radios Built Into Smartphones

FM radio isn't a feature that any smartphone manufacturer intentionally builds into their phones. It's a byproduct of some of the chips manufacturers use which have built-in FM receivers in addition to the features that the smartphone manufacturers are actually interested in.

A phone with the NextRadio message saying to plug in headphones

Here's what you need to listen to FM radio on your phone without a data connection:

  • A phone with a built-in FM radio chip - Your phone needs to have FM radio capability, and that capability needs to be switched on. This requires the manufacturer to activate the functionality, and the carrier to accept the feature.
  • Wired earbuds or headphones - FM radio doesn't work without an antenna. When you listen to an FM radio broadcast on your phone, it actually uses the wires in your earbuds or headphones as the antenna.
  • An FM radio app - Even if your phone has an FM radio chip, and it's turned on, you still need an app that's capable of accessing the chip. NextRadio is a free app that accomplishes this task.

What Phones Have FM Radio Receivers?

Built-in FM radio receivers are often disabled by smartphone manufacturers. In some cases, carriers have even requested the feature be disabled, possibly to encourage use of data-hungry radio apps or to avoid consumer complaints about poor radio reception.

While the FM chips are turned off in many phones, this feature is available on a lot of handsets. Manufacturers including HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung all offer at least a handful of phones with working FM chips, and every major cellular provider in the United States is compatible with at least one FM-enabled phone.

NextRadio maintains a full list of phones that have working FM chips, including which carriers allow you to use each phone.

The major exception is Apple, as there are no iPhones with activated FM chips. While the iPhone 6, and older models, included FM chips, Apple says there is no way to connect any kind of antenna to the chip. And while teardowns of later model iPhones reveal chips that should include built-in FM functionality, Apple claims that they don't.

If you want to listen to FM radio on iPhone, you need to download a radio app, and you need to have a working data connection.

Unlock the Secret FM Radio Tuner in Your Phone With NextRadio

If your phone has a built-in FM radio tuner chip, and the manufacturer chose to active it, then you can listen to FM radio on your phone without a data connection. However, your phone doesn't have that ability built in. Before you can tune in, you need to download an app that's capable of interfacing with the FM chip.

NextRadio is an ad-supported radio app that you can download from the Google Play store. It has similar functionality to other radio apps that let you stream radio stations over the internet, but it's also capable of tapping into your phone's FM radio receiver chip.

How to Listen to FM Radio Without Data in NextRadio

If you have an active data connection, you can choose to listen to streaming radio stations or only via local FM broadcasts. When you lose your data connection, you need to know how to activate the FM only mode.

Screenshots of the NextRadio app FM only mode

Here's how to activate the FM only mode in NextRadio:

  1. Launch the NextRadio app.
  2. Tap the (three horizontal lines) menu icon.
  3. Tap Settings.
  4. Tap FM only mode so that the slider moves to the right.

With the FM only mode activated, NextRadio will default to your built-in FM receiver chip instead of streaming local stations over the internet. If your local data service goes down, or you lose cell service for any reason, you'll still be able to listen to any FM station that's in range.

How to Listen to Local FM Radio Stations in NextRadio

Once you've activated the FM only mode in your NextRadio app, you're ready to listen to local FM radio on your phone without eating through your data plan. In order to accomplish this, you'll need wired headphones or earbuds. Wireless headphones won't work, because your phone needs to use the wires as an antenna.

Screenshots of Nextradio local FM radio player

Here's how to listen to local radio with the NextRadio app:

  1. Plug in your headphones or earbuds.
  2. Launch the NextRadio app.
  3. Tap the (three horizontal lines) menu icon.
  4. Tap Local FM Radio.
  5. Tap the station you want to listen to.

If you have an active data connection, and the station supports it, NextRadio will display a logo for the station and information about the song or program that you're listening to. Otherwise, you'll just have to identify the station you're looking for by its call letters.

How to Use the Basic Tuner in NextRadio

NextRadio also includes a basic tuner function that works a lot like any other FM radio. Instead of looking for your station in a list of local stations, this function presents you with a tuner that you can use to search for local stations. You can go straight to the station you're looking for, or use the seek function to see what's available.

Screenshots of the NextRadio basic tuner

Here's how to use the basic tuner in NextRadio:

  1. Plug in your headphones or earbuds.
  2. Launch the NextRadio app.
  3. Tap the (three horizontal lines) menu icon.
  4. Tap Basic Tuner.
  5. Tap the - and + buttons to adjust the frequency.
  6. Tap the back and forward buttons to use the seek functionality.
  7. When you tune into an active station, it will play automatically.
  8. Tap the stop button to stop listening.

Can You Listen to FM Radio on an iPhone?

The only way to listen to FM radio on an iPhone is with a radio app, and radio apps only work when you have a decent data connection. That means you can't rely on your iPhone for FM radio during emergencies.

The FCC urged Apple to enable the FM chips in their phones in 2017, but Apple responded with a claim that their latest phones don't have FM chips. Even if they did have FM chips, they don't have headphone jacks, and FM chips typically aren't capable of receiving signals without headphone wires to act as an antenna.

While iPhone owners can still listen to FM radio through radio apps, you can't count on the local cellular and data networks remaining up during a disaster. Radio apps are great for regular entertainment use, but if you're worried about being able to access crucial information during a disaster like a hurricane, it's a good idea to invest in a battery-powered or hand-crank radio.