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May 20 2011

Why You Need Headphones Connected to Listen to FM Radio on Mobile Phones

These days, smartphones have so much packed into them its a wonder that their innards don’t burst open. Some of the more common components crammed into smartphones are:

  • Bluetooth chipset and antenna,
  • Cameras (front and rear),
  • Capacitive touchscreen,
  • Cellular antennae (one for each frequency),
  • CPU,
  • Flash memory,
  • GPS receiver,
  • GPU,
  • SIM card holder,
  • Wi-Fi chipset and antenna.

In the case of the Samsung Galaxy S, that’s a lot of stuff to fit inside something roughly the size of an iPod Classic. So, when it comes to listening to FM radio on the SGS you might expect it to work out of the box without the need to connect anything else, right?

Well, not quite.

A lot of mobile phones won’t actually include an antenna for the FM radio inside and instead rely upon the wires inside your earphone cable to pick up the reception. This is also why when you try and run the FM radio application on the SGS without earphones connected it will refuse to start audio playback. However, there have been mobile phones with an internal FM antenna such as the Nokia 5030 and other feature phones. Having said that feature phones are less sophisticated and space challenged compared to smartphones.

Maybe with the way that electronics keeps shrinking FM radio might become more of a staple without connecting your earphones unless digital radio or streaming over he web becomes the mainstream.

9 comments

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  1. gurman

    week ago , i had bought samsung star 3 duos. when i tried to listen fm radio there was a error saying connect ur earphones but my earphones were already connected ! so, plz tell me what should i do to connect my earphone to mobile?

    1. Boyd Chan

      Did you use the earphones supplied in the box or another set?

  2. Sebastian

    Is it possible to do the same with a computer, use headphones as antenna? If so, do you know of software that allows you to take advantage of it?

    1. Boyd Chan

      That’s a really good question. I am not aware of software that will provide that sort of capability but you can get USB FM radio tuners that will at least get the signal into your computer and the software to handle it.

      Otherwise you could use something like TuneIn Radio if you have a smartphone as many radio stations have live streams of their channels which will eliminate the need for extra hardware.

  3. rizwan

    i need without headset mobile FM software nokia E51.please you send

    1. Boyd Chan

      I’ll attempt to answer as best as I can:

      If you’re after FM radio software for the Nokia E51 then you should read this thread.

      If you’re after radio software that streams radio using your data connection then try searching for Tunein.FM for Symbian.

  4. natha

    I have an old small MyPhone standard model and can play FM without the need for plugging due to the software bug.

    So it plays well without the need of earphone.

    we can do wifi but need earphones for FM?
    Someone has to remind the engineer how ridiculous that is.

  5. Dan Bill

    I would really like somebody to elaborate more on what using “the wires inside your earphone cable to pick up the reception” means, because to me it doesn’t look like wires are good antennae. I couldn’t find an explanation for why headphones are able to receive radio signal anywhere on the internet, but assuming they are able, they must all have some sort of small antenna inside them. But that must be a feature that is never mentioned in the product description (at least I never saw it). And it also begs the question, are all headphones equipped with an antenna? This is especially interesting since nobody mentions of an antenna’s existence within a headphone…

    1. Boyd Chan

      Hi Dan,

      Earphones usually have two or three wires connecting them to another device with one each for the audio (left audio and right audio) and another one for the microphone if present. You may be more familiar with antennae being a stiff piece of metal (like those on older cars and also television antennae on top of houses) rather than being skinny, flexible wire. On other cars, you may not actually have a traditional antenna at all but they may use conductive paint applied in a fine grid on the back window.

      Anyway, wire can be used as an antenna just fine however if you want earphones or headphones to perform best as an FM radio antenna then the wires should be unshielded. If they are shielded then they will block out electromagnetic radiation (such as FM radio waves) which may cause audio to become noisy with static or “white noise”. FM radio capabilities tend not to be the most popular feature to advertise on smartphones though particularly given that most radio stations stream their content over the internet as well at potentially higher quality.

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