One of the earliest uses of the internet was for streaming radio.
Starting in the early 1990s, you were no longer limited by your proximity to transmission towers. With a few clicks, you could access faraway stations with formats beyond Top 40 hits and classic rock.
Are you a fan of jazz? Tune in, daddy-o, to a big-city specialty station. Do you miss sports talk about your hometown teams? Find those fans. Did you move to a warmer climate but still miss the news your friends back home hear? Go to your favorite station’s website. Chances are good that you’ll find a Listen Live button ready for clicking on the station’s homepage.
Stream live radio in your car
But here’s what’s new: Improvements in cellular technology and the way your smartphone connects with your vehicle make it easier than ever to stream these out-of-market stations into your car. And unlike with satellite radio, you can listen for free with no subscription. Just make sure you have a good data plan with your phone service because you will use cellular data.
When you’re at home, listening over Wi-Fi can be as simple as telling your new smart speaker — such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home — to play a certain station.
“As Americans adopt different ways of consuming media, local broadcast radio is embracing the future,” says Ann Marie Cumming, senior vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters.
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Here’s how to do it, step by step
1. Download a streaming radio app to your phone or visit a service’s website on your mobile device. The best known may be iHeartRadio (free, Plus starting at $4.99 a month or All Access starting at $9.99 a month), the former Clear Channel that is the largest radio station owner in the United States. It streams more than 860 of its stations from 153 U.S. markets organized by genre. TuneIn (free or Premium at $9.99 a month) streams 120,000 radio stations around the world, including all iHeartRadio stations.
Other options are the free Radio.net, which streams 30,000 stations from around the world; FMRadioFree, which has no app but streams 15,000 stations from across the U.S. and has the option to go to radio websites for 65 other countries; and NPR, called NPR News on Google Play, which allows you to livestream any of the more than 1,050 NPR stations or listen on demand to NPR podcasts.
2. Browse stations and save your favorites within the app or the web browser on your smartphone. Instructions for creating favorites on each app vary, but the information on browsers also will work for any website.
On Chrome Android, the default browser for Android smartphones that has a version available for iPhones, tap the three vertical dots More icon to the right of your web address. At the top of the menu that flies out, tap the Star ★ icon at the very top, not the one called ★ Bookmarks lower down, to save it to your favorites on your mobile browser.
On an Apple iPhone’s default Safari browser, tap the Share icon, the middle one at the bottom of the screen that looks like a square with an up arrow coming out of it, then use your finger to drag up the menu that you’ll see below. Making the menu a little bigger will bring up Add Bookmark and Add to Favorites ☆ options just below Copy. Add to Favorites ☆ will make it a little easier to find, but don’t overdo it or you’ll find it tough to sort through your favorites.
3. Connect your phone to your car, either through a plug-in connection — recommended so you don’t drain your phone’s battery — or wireless Bluetooth. You can use a phone mount on your dash for relatively easy access.
But if your car is equipped with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, that’s even better. After you open either CarPlay or Auto apps, the radio apps will appear on your dashboard touch screen.
That way, you won’t have to worry about your favorite station fading out as you get farther from its towers. Wherever you have cell service, you can listen to livestreaming stations in your car.
Still want your MTV? Stream some music videos
The cable-TV channels that pioneered music videos (MTV, VH1, CMT, BET) have largely switched to other programming.
So, where to find pop shorts now? Sample these streaming platforms, some available via apps.
- To set it and forget it, Loop or PlutoTV. Download the Loop or Pluto TV apps, pick a musical genre, and let the old times roll.
- If you’re on a hunt, YouTube. Find just about any video you remember from back in the day on this streaming behemoth.
- For the greatest hits, Vevo. On this platform you can search for a favorite artist and let the service play song after song.
- When you miss VJs, DittyTV. Hosts talk and do interviews between the videos on this Americana music channel.
- To hear what kids are into, Apple Music TV. Through the Apple TV app, watch a round-the-clock stream of the latest hits by current artists such as Doja Cat and Olivia Rodrigo.
— Jim Lenahan
Chris Morris is a contributing writer who covers technology and video gaming. He previously was an editor at CNN Money and Yahoo! Finance. His work also appears in Fortune, on Nasdaq.com and on CNBC.
Jim Lenahan is an executive editor for AARP Bulletin and AARP The Magazine. He previously was a senior editor at USA Today and editor of USA Weekend magazine.