With all the games, social networking and productivity apps flooding the App Store, it’s easy to forget that your iPhone is the best mobile music device on the market.
Aside from the awesome built-in iPod, there are plenty of great radio apps out there that allow you to listen instantly to just about anything you could want. Below we’ll look at a handful of all-star radio apps that you should try today.
A Tale of Two Categories
There are two primary ways to listen to the radio with your iPhone. The first is to tune into actual radio stations. Unfortunately, unlike the iPod Nano, the iPhone doesn’t have a built-in FM tuner. However, there are several apps that stream content from radio stations and their websites from all over the globe.
Using these apps you can listen to most of your favorite radio stations just as if you were in the car or carrying around a boom box on your shoulder like in the 90s. Many of them even add bonus features like recording, tagging and alarms.
The second way to listen to the radio is through one of the next-generation radio services. These services have sought to revolutionize the music world by providing you with customizable content that plays on demand and actually learns what you like vs. what you don’t.
Old School Radio Apps
To get started, let’s take a look at a few apps that bring can bring all the wonder of AM, FM and/or satellite radio to your iOS device.
If you want to go the traditional AM/FM route, start here. Clear Channel’s iheart radio is one of the best free radio apps you’ll find on the App Store.
With iheart you’ll have access to over 750 talk and music stations. The impressive feature set includes the ability to favorite songs and stations, shake to shuffle, song lyrics, video content, multitask support, podcast downloading and more.
If you’re comparing free apps, also check out Public Radio Player, a similar solution with around 500 stations.
TuneIn Radio is a lot like iheart radio on steroids (you pay for the extra features). It has over 40,000 stations from around the world and tons of killer features like station recording, an alarm clock, a built-in web browser, live radio pause, bookmarks, amazing search capabilities, a sleep timer and a whole lot more.
TuneIn is by far the best app in its category that I’ve come across. Check out our full review if you want to learn more.
The merger of Sirius and XM has pretty much created a monopoly in satellite radio. While this may be bad for your checkbook, the good news is you can get all your favorite satellite radio stations in a single iPhone app.
This app gives you over 120 stations, tagging, song purchasing and multitask support so you can listen while the app is in the background. Keep in mind that while the app is free, you have to be a Sirius Premium Online Subscriber to actually use it.
Second Generation Apps
Now we’ll take a look at some of the best apps that allow you to customize your stream. There are a few popular apps here you’ve no doubt tried and hopefully one or two you haven’t.
It’s fair to say that Pandora is the king of this niche. The app has been hovering the top downloads section since the App Store first launched and the online service has been a favorite of mine since long before iPhones existed.
Basically, if you haven’t ever used Pandora, you need to go download this app immediately. The general idea is that you type in the name of a song or artist that you like and Pandora will build you custom radio stations that get smarter over time based on your suggestions.
Last.fm is a lot like a cross between Pandora and Facebook. It’s actually a really awesome social network that tracks your music listening habits and provides you in-depth stats, hooks you up with users with similar tastes, helps you discover new music, and gives you custom radio stations.
The Last.fm iPhone app has nearly all the best features from the website: custom stations, tagging, “hearting” tracks, banning tracks, events, artist bios and more.
Slacker Radio is yet another app that basically borrows the Pandora format. You can choose from popular stations or create custom stations based on your own personalized interests.
Choose from millions of songs, thousands of artists and over 120 existing stations. You also get artist bios, lyrics and even caching for offline listening.
Stitcher is an awesome app that essentially takes the Pandora model and applies it to talk radio. You can listen to pre-built or custom stations that feature portions of all your favorite radio programs and podcasts all strung together back to back.
I really love this app. It’s one of the best ways out there to get a quick look at all of today’s current events all over the globe from multiple sources. It’s really nice to be able to survey so many programs and podcasts so quickly. If you’re at all interested in talk radio, I highly recommend grabbing this free download.
The apps above represent some of the best available for listening to the radio on your iPhone. With the exclusion of the XM app, I personally use all of these regularly and can attest to their quality (though the most recent Slacker update is catching a lot of negative reviews).
Also, if you don’t mind paying for subscriptions, you’ll definitely want to check out Grooveshark and Spotify (not available in the US) as well. These services go beyond the freedom of even the Pandora model by allowing you to listen to whatever music you want on demand.
Leave a comment below and let us know how you listen to the radio on your iPhone and which apps you think are the best.