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
It might seem strange that smartphone manufacturers would include an FM receiver 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.
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
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.
The Benefits of FM Radio
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:
- Keep Your Phone Charged Before Potential Emergencies: If you suspect an emergency situation 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.
- 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 won’t need to charge your phone quite as often.
- 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 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 instead.
For more like this, check out our overview of FM transmitter options for Android.
Image Credit: Georgejmclittle via Shutterstock.com