How to Turn Your Android Phone into a Weather Radio

Many years ago, before I took up long distance hiking, I used to canoe and camp.  My girlfriend at the time and I had a special island in the Boundary Waters that we liked to call our own.  It was secluded and the northern part of island was a small cliff where we liked to set up a hammock and watch the wildlife.  It would take about two days to get there from where we parked the truck. The seven day forecast called for a slight chance of rain later in the week.  As this was prior to smartphones and my ultra-light ways, one critical piece of equipment I took was a weather radio.

We were packing up on day five and were planning on paddling back early the next morning. That slight chance of rain carried on for the week.  As the day wore on we could see from our perch that a pretty big storm was coming.  We talked about maybe leaving early and finding a campsite on shore.  We turned on the weather radio.  It told us that the slight chance of rain turned into a storm, and it was going to be massive and it was approaching fast.  We decided to dig in and packed up everything we didn’t want to get wet.  We pulled out and tied down our canoe and huddled in our tent.

The storm was the very worst I’ve ever been in.  The waters were white.  The wind blew down our tent.  The trees bent.  Two large limbs fell in our camp.  We huddled in the lowest part of the island that wasn’t getting washed over from the waves in our outer shells.  The kicker was that lightning struck a tree no more than 100 feet from us.  My ears rung.

This went on for hours.  The lightning was so constant that it was like twilight, even though it was the dead of the night.  It was terrible, but it would have been much worse if we would have tried to make it to shore.  We would have been caught up in the storm and surely we would have capsized before we made it.  We survived, in part due to that little weather radio.

So, it is 2018 and I am an ultra-light backpacker.  I carry all of the world’s knowledge in my pocket.  I still want that weather radio.  I know that it is still important.  So, how do you turn your Android Phone into a weather radio that doesn’t need the Internet?  Turns out that it is cheaper than you think and doesn’t require you to take anything you will not already be taking.  It also meets the backpacker’s budget.  If you have the phone, the conversion is free!

To make a weather radio, we need just three things:

  • An Android Phone with a charge.
  • A pair of headphones.
  • The app Next Radio.

Per the specifications for a phone to be an Android phone, it must be able to receive FM-Radio.  It is built in there for you.  What we need is an antenna.  That is where the headphones come in. Plug the headphones into the headphone jack and you are good to go!

I bet you thought you were going to have to MacGyver something.

The problem with receiving FM signals on an Android phone is that both the manufacturers and the carriers do not have much motivation promoting it.  While your phone may be able to receive them, either the carrier or the manufacturer may lock them down so that you cannot use them.

I have an unlocked Samsung Note 8.  It is unlocked, which means it is a universal phone not locked down to a carrier.  It is one of the phones that has its FM chip activated.  You can click this link to see if your phone’s FM chip is also unlocked.

Install the Next Radio app from the Play Store. Start the app.  Then follow these steps:

  1. Click on the menu in the upper left hand corner.
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Turn on FM only mode.
  4. Turn off Stream Only on Wi-Fi.
  5. Turn off Prefer station stream over FM.

Click on the menu again and select Basic Tuner.  Plug in your headphones. Select a station you know in your area.  Turn off Wi-Fi and mobile data to test it.  You know it is working if when you unplug your headphones and the radio stops receiving a signal.

To make it work you cannot have your phone in Airplane Mode.  You can still save power by turning off Wi-Fi and mobile data.

The range of FM-Radio is much longer than a 3G or 4G signal.  While you might not have a good signal to use a browser, you still might have an FM signal from a local station.

As always, do not be afraid to take an extra zero before going out when conditions are going to be bad.  Still, sometimes conditions change drastically.  A slight chance of light rain turns into a massive storm.  A backup method of getting local conditions that doesn’t require anything other than what you are already taking is a pretty simple solution.

See you out there.

Note to Apple Users.  This also works for you, but I do not have an iPhone.  You’ll have to figure it out yourselves.  The Next Radio website can help.

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