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There’s a little-known feature most smartphones have hidden inside. It’s a common technology — you might use it in your car or at home — but most people don’t know they also have it on their phone.

In case you haven’t guessed already your smartphone probably has an FM radio receiver built right into it. You just need to activate it, and we’re here to help you do just that.

The FM Tuner Locked in Your Phone

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It might seem strange that smartphone manufacturers would include an FM receiver How Analog Radio Works, What's Digital Radio, and What’s Next? How Analog Radio Works, What's Digital Radio, and What’s Next? In 2017, Norway is set to be the first country to completely shut down FM radio. The rest of the world won't be far behind. Read More and not tell their customers about it. There is a reason, though.

The ability to access the radio is a standard feature in the Qualcomm LTE modem, which is used in most of the world’s smartphones. They most likely include this capability because using a smartphone to access the radio is common in the developing world.

And it’s simpler to deactivate the radio chip than to use completely different modems for phones sold in different areas.

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Although manufacturers can decide to universally activate the chip, the onus is on individual owners to unlock the FM radio on their smartphone. In terms of carriers, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile are slowly moving to activate the capability, but Verizon is not. And Apple seemingly has no interest in doing so.

We don’t know for sure why some companies won’t activate the chips, but there are several theories kicking around:

Some companies say they don’t see an FM radio as a big selling point or something consumers would actually want. Critics argue that the real reason is the financial incentive for not activating them. Because doing so would discourage people from using streaming services, which makes money for everyone involved.

How to Unlock the FM Tuner

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If you have a device and carrier that has chosen to activate the chip, accessing your device’s radio capabilities isn’t difficult. You only need two things: an app called NextRadio that allows you to use the FM chip, and something to act as an antenna. NextRadio has published a list of devices and carriers that support its application.

Once you’ve determined if your phone supports NextRadio, simply head to wherever you download your apps and select it. You can also download the app to see if your phone is compatible. It will detect the chip for you if it is. If it can’t find one, the download wasn’t a total waste. You can still use the app for streaming via the internet.

If the app detects an activated FM chip, the next thing you’ll need is something that can act as an antenna. This is easier than it sounds. Practically anything that plugs into your device and has a wire will work. That means you can use your headphones or a wired speaker.

You don’t have to listen through the headphones or other cable you connected. You can choose to direct the sound to your phone’s speakers as well. Unfortunately, Bluetooth isn’t currently supported.

Download: NextRadio for Android

What If Your Device Isn’t Supported?

If your device and/or carrier doesn’t support NextRadio, there isn’t much you can do to get access to the radio right now. If you play the long game, though, you might eventually get it.

Consumer groups, politicians, and public safety officials have been pressing phone manufacturers and carriers to activate their FM chips for some time now. They cite the fact that radio is free on other devices and can be useful in emergencies as reasons that all FM chips should be activated.

Advocacy group Activate FM Chip recommends contacting your wireless carrier, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), or your representative and letting them know your stance on the issue.

If you own an Apple device or have Verizon as your carrier, you can always download NextRadio or another streaming app How to Move to a New Music Streaming Service How to Move to a New Music Streaming Service Are you considering switching to a new music streaming service? Unfortunately, doing so is fraught with difficulties. However, using these tricks can make your migration a lot easier. Read More and listen to the radio online This Site Lets You Listen to Any Radio Station on the Planet This Site Lets You Listen to Any Radio Station on the Planet Why limit yourself to radio stations from your own city or country? Tap into stations from around the world and see what's out there to explore. Read More instead.

The Benefits of FM Radio

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Although you can download a number of apps to stream radio stations on your phone, using an actual FM receiver has some benefits over using the internet.

Probably the biggest advantage is the fact that connecting to the radio doesn’t require you to use data. It’s free to use just like it would be in your car or on another device. If you don’t have reliable access to Wi-Fi or just don’t want to use all your data listening to the radio, activating your FM chip is the perfect solution.

Fair warning, though: NextRadio does use a small amount of data to pull in album artwork and station logos. You can switch this off by going to Settings, then Interface, and then “Switch to Tuner Only Mode.”

While you can access a lot of stations with streaming apps, some of them won’t have every single one of your local stations. If you’re accessing them via FM radio, you don’t have to worry about this and can be sure you’ll find every station that’s available in your area.

The FCC recommends having a radio for emergency situations such as tornadoes or severe storms. This ensures you can stay informed or communicate if the phone lines and internet both go down. Since most people don’t use radio much in the house any more turning smartphones into radios makes perfect sense.

This is one the foremost arguments supporters of activating all smartphone FM receivers have used to convince companies to turn on their FM radio chips.

Tips for How to Use Your FM Chip

For those who happen to have an activated FM chip, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your radio-activated device:

  1. Keep Your Phone Charged Before Potential Emergencies: If you suspect an emergency situation When Disaster Strikes: Android Apps You Want in Case of an Emergency When Disaster Strikes: Android Apps You Want in Case of an Emergency You never know when you could be hit by a flood, wildfire, tornado, or other natural disaster. Be prepared with these Android apps! Read More may be occurring soon, make sure your phone is fully charged. This way you can use it as an emergency radio even if the power goes out. Pay attention to severe weather warnings, and keep a mobile charger on hand if you’re out and about.
  2. Use the Radio to Save Your Battery: Whether you’re in an emergency situation or are just using your phone casually, battery life When You Need to Extend an iPhone's Battery Life, Just Put It Face Down When You Need to Extend an iPhone's Battery Life, Just Put It Face Down Your iPhone's battery might not last as long as you want it to. But did you know that you can keep the screen from turning on with a simple motion? Read More is important. If you want your battery to last longer, use the radio to listen to music instead of streaming it. Tapping into FM signals requires less energy than using an internet connection, so you won’t need to charge your phone quite as often.
  3. Stay Informed About What Devices Are Supported: If you’re patiently waiting for your carrier to activate the FM chip in your device, you can stay informed by subscribing to NextRadio’s newsletter. It will let you know when it adds new entries to its list of supported devices.

Although you might not even realize you own a radio, there’s probably one in your pocket most of the time. You just can’t use it unless you download the right app. Or, in some cases, unless your phone’s manufacturer or your wireless carrier activates the FM chip in your device.

Some companies have now started to activate the radio receivers How Analog Radio Works, What's Digital Radio, and What’s Next? How Analog Radio Works, What's Digital Radio, and What’s Next? In 2017, Norway is set to be the first country to completely shut down FM radio. The rest of the world won't be far behind. Read More in their devices, However, it may still be awhile before activated radio receivers become the standard for smartphones around the world.

Until then, those that don’t have supported devices might want to get a small radio for emergencies.

For those that do have supported devices, it’s your lucky day! You just discovered an extra feature that makes your phone just a little more fun and useful.

Have You Unlocked the FM Radio on Your Smartphone?

Now that you know how to access the FM radio potentially hidden on your smartphone, we want to find out whether you’re actually going to use it. Or whether you prefer having access to every radio station around the world This Site Lets You Listen to Any Radio Station on the Planet This Site Lets You Listen to Any Radio Station on the Planet Why limit yourself to radio stations from your own city or country? Tap into stations from around the world and see what's out there to explore. Read More instead.

Was it difficult to unlock? Or surprisingly easy? How often do you now use it? Has it made you less reliant on streaming music services? Please leave a comment telling us all about your experience.

Image Credit: Georgejmclittle via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Alpesh Borad
    September 3, 2017 at 6:03 am

    Not supported in india

  2. Alpesh Borad
    September 3, 2017 at 6:02 am

    Not supposed in india

  3. Michele De Petris
    August 2, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I'm very sad to read an article that does not give any basic detail about the OS of the smartphone if not the model or year of production, nor the nation where the FM radio can be tuned. I have a Nokia Lumia 620 in Italy... so what?

  4. FlyingAce
    July 24, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    My good ole' Nokia handsets with Symbian had this feature activated from the factory...

  5. Fik-of-Borg
    July 23, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Eehhh... not really, apparently.
    I installed on my old Samsung Galaxy S2, which I know has an FM radio chip, and suspiciously it offered FM stations from far away cities. Tapped one and it started playing rightaway without plugging the earphone (required to function as FM antenna). Turned off wifi and it stopped playing.
    Turned on the native FM app and it played local FM stations as expected (after plugging the earphone and without turning wifi back on)
    Conclusion: Nextradio was streaming music data, not tuning FM radio waves.

  6. Chinmay Sarupria
    July 23, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Why don't you mention in the article title that it is US only? Unless of course, you believe that MakeUseOf is only accessed by people from the United States.

    "In terms of carriers, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile are slowly moving to activate the capability, but Verizon is not"
    These are carriers in the US and the rest of the world has nothing to do with it. If Verizon doesn't activates the capability then who cares? 300 million people from US might be interested in such news but 7 billion other people have nothing to do with it.

    makeuseof is slowly becoming makeUSof.com

  7. Mark Mercer
    July 22, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Where's the disclosure that this is a paid native-advertising article, or similar, for NextRadio? Because that's clearly what it is. You make no mention of other FM Tuner apps, including ones that may be available for the same or related phone model as yours from countries that do "unlock" the chip. And most other FM Tuner apps are just that, an FM tuner for the radio.

    You also provide absolutely no information on how to actually unlock the FM function, if your manufacturer, or carrier, has locked that feature in the phone. Only the entirely misleading "Unlock your FM chip" - where you are fooling people into thinking NextRadio unlocks it. NextRadio doesn't work for actual broadcast FM radio unless the FM tuner function is already unlocked. It's just a tuner app - and a user tracking bonanza.

    NextRadio is a commercial app (free to use because the user is the product being sold to marketers.) Which defaults to their own streaming service of aggregating various streams of existing stations, rather than to being a true, local-device, "FM Radio". You don't mention that the NextRadio website, if you click to it and then click over to the "For Broadcasters" link, goes to a company called "TagSystem", which right on its page blasts out:

    "TagStation Services
    Insights and data for radio broadcasters to drive new revenue, better understand listeners and steer content. Our cloud-based services integrate station programming into the NextRadio app, HD radio and the connected car." And this: "Dial Report
    Granular, near real-time radio listener data that enables smarter targeting, faster optimization. We are measuring broadcast radio in a digital world and changing how companies acquire/use radio listener insights."

    In other words, Track Every Listener, all the time, even if they are just "listening to the radio".

    Ty Smith, in the first comment, is right that it's a stupid article. But it's also an extremely misleading one, bordering on deceptive marketing with likely violation of paid-advertising or other compensation disclosure regulations in various jurisdictions. Including the USA under the so-called "Mommyblogger" rule requiring proactive disclosure of any type of value received, monetary or otherwise, that was an incentive for writing and publishing the article.

  8. Ty Smith
    July 21, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    How to Unlock the FM Radio Hidden on Your Smartphone
    If you have a device and carrier that has chosen to activate the chip, accessing your device’s radio capabilities isn’t difficult.
    If your device and/or carrier doesn’t support NextRadio, there isn’t much you can do to get access to the radio right now.

    What a stupid article...
    You can't