How to listen to the radio on your iPhone

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Radio is still remarkably rad.
Radio is still remarkably rad.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Yes, the radio.

Some phones, and some old iPods — the clip-on Nano, for example — have real radio receivers built in. They can pick up over-the-air AM and FM waves, and play them, just like you were in a car from the olden days. The iPhone and iPad, though, have never had working radio tuners. But thanks to internet streaming, it doesn’t matter. You can listen to live radio anywhere, using an app.

Today we’ll see one super-simple app that works a lot like an old radio, and another app that I don’t really like, but that does pretty much anything you could want in a radio-streaming app.

Why radio?

The radio still has a few advantages over Spotify or Apple Music. First off, you don’t have to think. Just turn it on and listen. If you avoid the commercial FM stations that all play the same 50 songs from the 1970s and 1980s, then you can actually find new music this way. Try something like Dandelion Radio for some really out-there new music, for example.

Radio is also great for listening to live sports events, and for free. Radio used to be the main way to follow sports, and it’s still great. It’s especially good if you’re on the move, or if you are doing something else. Video streams and TV are fine if you can watch them, but radio describes the action, so you don;t need to see it. In the olden days, I used to mute the TV and listen to the radio commentary of the same football match, because it was usually better.

Tune in

TuneIn Radio is full of features.
TuneIn Radio is full of features.
Photo: Cult of Mac

TuneIn Radio is probably the best radio app for iOS. It has a search feature to find any station, and it lets you pause and resume playback, save favorites, and — my favorite feature — you can use 3-D Touch to open a radio station right from the app’s icon. The apps also lets you stream podcasts, which is a handy feature.

So why don’t I like it? It’s ugly, for one. And the UI is confusing. On a regular radio — or in a well-designed app of any kind — you quickly learn your way around, and form then on, navigation is easy. And yet whenever I use TuneIn, I have to stop and take stock of the interface before tapping anything.

It’s just not intuitive in any way. And I use it most days, so it’s not that I’m forgetting how it all works.

Despite this, I paid for the pro version to lose the ads, and whatever else it was that $10 bought me a the time — I’ve had the app for years now.

TuneIn also has a free version.

TuneIn Pro – Radio & Sports

Price: $9.99

Download: TuneIn Pro – Radio & Sports from the App Store (iOS)

Ström

None more minimal.
None more minimal.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Ström is a minimalist radio app for the iPhone and iPad. It’s the very opposite of TuneIn. It comes with three preset stations that you can switch, and these are switched using up and down buttons on the radio. Yes, the radio. Ström’s interface is a single picture of a radio. Not a photo. Just a cool monochrome graphic.

You add stations by tapping the tuner band between the buttons, and pasting in the link to the radio stream.

The best thing about Ström, apart from its looks, and its simplicity, is that radio stream open instantly. Perhaps TuneIn is preparing a long buffer before it begins playing, but it takes a good few seconds. Ström just goes.

And here’s a Ström pro tip: You can pause the audio from the usual lock-screen/Control Center shortcuts, and you can switch stations using the skip forward/back buttons. In order to restart a paused stream, you have to change channels.

Ström

Price: Free

Download: Ström from the App Store (iOS)

Radio might be on its way out in favor of personalized streaming, but there’s something easy about the radio, and still very appealing. As long as you skip all those awful stations that play soft rock or smooth jazz and all that other inoffensive wallpaper.