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How to Unlock the FM Radio Hidden on Your Smartphone

James Hirtz Updated 23-01-2020

There’s a little-known feature most smartphones have hidden inside. It’s a common technology that you use in your car or at home. However, most people don’t know they 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 you’ll then have an FM tuner on your phone.

In this article, we explain how to listen to radio on your phone by unlocking the hidden FM tuner.

The FM Tuner Locked Inside Your Smartphone

NextRadio introductory logo

It might seem strange that smartphone manufacturers would include an FM receiver and not tell their users about it. There is a reason, though.

The ability to access the radio comes from the Qualcomm LTE modem in 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.


Although manufacturers can decide to universally activate the chip, its on owners to unlock the FM radio on their smartphone. In terms of carriers, many major ones allow for the opportunity already. 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

If you have a supported device and carrier, accessing your device’s FM radio isn’t difficult. You only need two things: an app called NextRadio and wired headphones or a speaker to act as an antenna. NextRadio has published a list of devices and carriers that support NextRadio.


Once you’ve determined if your phone supports NextRadio, you’ll have to use Google Play. Unfortunately, Apple removed NextRadio from its app store as of December 2018.

So if you don’t want to check NextRadio’s list, download the app to see if your phone is compatible. If it can’t find a supported chip, the download wasn’t a total waste.

If the app detects an activated FM chip, the next thing you’ll need is 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.

If you aren’t using a speaker, you don’t have to listen through the headphones you connected. You can choose to direct the sound to your phone’s speakers as well. Unfortunately, there’s no Bluetooth support at this time.


Download: NextRadio for Android (Free)

The Current State of NextRadio

NextRadio's notice about no longer support live streaming

NextRadio has returned to the basics, with streaming and iOS support no longer supported. This means that the program focuses entirely on being an FM tuner. When you first start using the app, keep these alerts in mind:


These are all leftovers from when the app supported streaming and had limited data usage. The search function doesn’t properly work either, so just put all your attention onto the basic FM tuner initially. You can still list favorite stations, so you can create an FM radio playlist over time.

The Benefits of Using FM Radio

Although you can download several apps to stream radio stations, using an FM tuner has separate benefits.

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 have limited data, use the radio on your phone.

While you can access a lot of stations by streaming, streaming services won’t always have access to all of your local stations. If you’re accessing them via FM radio, 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 the internet both go down. Since home radios aren’t as common anymore, turning smartphones into radios makes perfect sense.

Tips for How to Use Your FM Chip

Use these two tips for your radio-activated device:

  1. Keep Your Phone Charged Before Potential Emergencies: If you suspect an emergency situation could occur soon, make sure to fully charge your phone. 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 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 can add it to a repertoire of proven ways to extend battery life on Android 10 Proven and Tested Tips to Extend Battery Life on Android Suffering from poor battery life on Android? Follow these tips to get more juice out of your Android device's battery. Read More .

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 in their devices. However, it may still be a while 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.

Unlock the FM Radio on Your Smartphone

Now that you know how to activate and listen to the radio on your phone, consider these lasting benefits. During an emergency, you have an extra way to stay informed. And for general use, there’s always a way to save battery life and data while using your phone.

If you’re craving more information on other FM apps, check out our article discussing whether FM transmitter apps work Do FM Transmitter Apps Work? How to Transmit Radio From Your Phone Do FM transmitter apps work? And how else can you broadcast radio from your phone? Here's what you need to know. Read More .

Related topics: Android Tips, Internet Radio, iPhone Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Gregg
    January 24, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    About a year ago, NextRadio (or the phone company) finally unlocked the FM capabilities of my phone. Worked pretty well. (Yes, it worked even without any data connection, so I know it wasn't streaming.) After a few minutes of testing, I noticed that the phone was heating up and the battery was draining. Uninstalled the app and went back to using an actual FM radio.

  2. Chance M Hitt
    January 22, 2020 at 10:13 am

    As indicated in many of the comments ,the scope and details provided by this article are extremely limited and u.s. centric in its focus and consideration also in the u.s. (don't know about other countries )
    There is also a another radio band know as am radio ,in my brief search
    I find few if any references for the band/frequency ,guess I'll just keep searching 😒

  3. Scott
    June 10, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    This worked on my HTC Desire phone from 2014, which I've used as a no carrier Android Device for years and has no valid SIM card. It uses the headphones as an antenna. I don't have much need for this but it could come in handy in an Emergency.

  4. Alan Burnstine
    December 24, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Not sure why you say Verizon isn't supported. FM is, and always has been supported on virtually all of the smartphones they sell.

  5. Threecard Trick
    October 19, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Total WOFT!!! Simple test: choose a local favorite station. Go into settings and click only play on WiFi. Turn off WiFi. No radio. This is a bait & switch deal trying to fool those that don't know any better through no fault of their own. The author Kayla Mathews is either complicit is this fake news or incompetent. No doubt nothing will be done.

    • Jim
      December 21, 2017 at 3:32 am

      Sorry, but this is not bait and switch. You either obviously don't know how to use the app, or your phones carrier has your FM chip disabled, or your phone is a Crapple, and not an Android device, so in that case, you're SOL. I go through Sprint with an HTC smartphone with an FM tuner chip and NextRadio works just fine with no data or Wifi connection at all., using the FM tuner chip installed.

      But if you own any Apple phone, I feel sorry for you. It's really an overpriced POS. I love my Android.

  6. rkt
    September 28, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Does not work for the Google Huawei Nexus 6 phone. The only streams from your data feed.

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

    Not supported in india

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

    Not supposed in india

  9. 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?

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

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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