There are many streaming music channels out there, where you can choose the music you want, when and on what device. But today we’re going to concentrate on apps that mimic old-time radio – giving you a place where you can enjoy the tunes you already love and discover new jams on your wavelength.
Radio apps break down generally into two types. Either they mimic a conventional radio by simply providing a choice of radio stations to listen to, or they allow you to essentially build your own, personalized radio service based on your tastes.
Listening to the radio online – your options in apps
TuneIn Radio gives you access to 100,000-plus stations worldwide. You can search for them by genre to find the sounds you’re looking for, both as live radio shows and recorded podcasts.
In addition to music, there are spoken-word and sports stations to choose from. The app provides plenty of information about the channels, including who is also following them to help you make your selection. You can even leave comments to guide others. The app will also make suggestions of other stations with similar content for you to explore.
Choose the simplicity of existing stations via TuneIn Radio and you’ll be offered a free subscription for a week or a month for the Premium package – but once that expires, you’ll be charged $9.99 a month. But you can cancel that at any time and still enjoy your free week.
- Discover new music from live stations and from around the world
- Access recorded shows and podcasts, too
- Previews of what’s playing on a station allow you to make informed choices
- The premium account includes access to great extras, including audiobooks and NFL games
- Access TuneIn from your computer as well as via the app
- You may experience variable quality as the app is dependent on the individual stations
- It’s only a radio app with no bells and whistles you’d expect from other streaming media offerings
Fans of the app: want to listen to and music from around the planet. If you don’t mind being unable to skip between tracks and just want to listen to the radio, this is for you.
Like the vast majority of radio apps – but unlike TuneIn – Pandora allows you to build up a tailor-made, personalized listening experience, where you chose the songs, bands and genres you like. And Pandora is especially good at predicting which songs you’ll be into and which you won’t, thanks to its Music Genome Project, a clever piece of AI which analyzes 450 different musical characteristics to get a handle on whether a particular track gels with your taste.
It’s free – if you don’t mind listening to and/or viewing ads, and can cope with only being able to skip 24 tracks a day. The ad-free service is $4.99 a month and gives unlimited skips, better quality streaming and up to five hours per day of offline radio enjoyment .
Pandora does a lot of things right, which it is by far and away the most popular app of its kind in the U.S. Unfortunately for the rest of the world (and like several other radio apps) you can’t get it abroad.
- Quickly learns your musical preferences
- No registration required
- Shuffles stations to get a greater variety of music
- Provides plenty of info, such as band biographies and discographies
- Currently only available in the U.S.
- Those pesky ads
Fans of the app: want to listen to old favorites – and new music in tune with their current tastes.
Where Pandora’s musical intelligence is artificial, Slacker Radio’s is wholly human. Music experts and fans have created its wide range of virtual radio stations. Like Pandora, Slacker is supported by ads, limits your number of skips, and is only available in the U.S.
There are two paid offerings. Plus costs $4 a month, allows unlimited skips on stations and offline listening and is ad-free. Unlimited is 10 bucks a month and also allows you to play songs on demand, create custom playlists, and enjoy them offline.
- Great design which is intuitive and simple to use
- Wonderful and unique selection of radio stations curated by fans and experts
- Lack of flexibility. You can’t delete songs you don’t want to hear from a station.
Fans of the app: will appreciate the human approach to introducing them to new music, and enjoying the old stuff.
It’s free, and although ad-supported, the ads are still images, so not nearly as annoying as video or audio. iHeartRadio has around 1,500 live radio stations with a ton of music – about 18 million songs by almost half a million different artists.
And on top of that, you can listen to talk radio and even tune in for seasonal stuff like Christmas music. It comes as an app – which can run on a variety of different devices – and as a website for greater flexibility of use.
- No video or audio commercials
- Doesn’t require a user account
- Flexible: can be used on several different devices and online
- Free to use
- Contains picture advertisements
- Limits the number of songs you can skip per day
Here’s where we start to cross over from radio-only into general music streaming music apps. Apple Music offers both streaming music and Beats 1 Radio, its own online station, which features its very own programming. Of course, that’s only one station, so if you don’t like that selection, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
- Beats 1 radio features unique and interesting programming
- There’s only one free radio station that plays music
- There’s no standalone app for radio-only
Fans of the app: will only want to listen to Beats 1 Radio, or already have an Apple Music subscription.
Other audio options
Those are our top picks for the best radio apps around. Naturally, you may disagree, and there are many other options available. Here’s a sampling of what else is available.
Another U.S.-only offering, Napster’s unRadio (previously known as Rhapsody) will cost you $4.99 per month for an ad-free experience. Use it to create your own stations or browse by genre, artist, and recommendations from Napster. There’s the possibility of a free 14-day trial, but no permanent free option available. You also get unlimited skips for your money.
SomaFM focuses on underground and alternative music and can be streamed from the website on your computer or Android device. There is an iOS app available for $7.99. It’s listener-supported, with 30 unique stations that are all different and interesting.
You can make or find playlists created by real people that match your mood, weather, or whatever you want on this site. It allows you to create your own playlists and listen to those the others have made. Thanks for the mix tape, stranger!
Local radio apps
In addition to the big names in radio apps, many, many stations now have their own apps or, at the very least, an online presence. A great example is the BBC, whose iPlayer app allows you to listen to listen to over half a dozen national stations plus many other regional and specialist channels, covering music, talk, and sports.
All the other streaming media
Why buy music when you can rent it? Many people have given up on the idea of owning physical media or even music files, choosing streaming instead. It gives you the flexibility of listening to plenty of new music and old favorites, either for free or for a small monthly fee.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, in addition to the niche radio-like apps, there’s a range of well-known media-streaming subscription services, such as Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, SoundCloud, all of which offer some radio-type functionality. But that’s the subject of another article…