Five of the Best Apps for Free Radio Streaming

Article by Alison K. Lanier | 719 words

The proliferation of “free” Internet radio is taking off. This endless tide of options makes all the new and established apps blend together: how different could they possibly be? But some of those free apps come tangled up with eventual costs or costs for better access and fewer sponsor messages.

Spotify and Pandora are the biggest, most obvious options. They’re also the options that tend to be the most influential in the larger music scene. Taylor Swift’s music isn’t on Spotify? Blasphemy. Both Pandora and Spotify are pay-for-perks services: their free versions are full of limitations as to how many songs you can hear or how many ads you can skip.

If you’re in the mood for something different, here are a few of the easiest and freest of the free radio apps.

Slacker Radio

Slacker Radio screenshot



At first glance, Slacker Radio looks like a Spotify or Pandora spinoff, but with a fun, bright aesthetic and neat, easy-to-use layout—as well as a missing price tag. The service mimics Spotify’s icon grid with its visual layout. It also provides hundreds of stations and genre/mood playlists. Slacker Radio wants you to be “the ultimate slacker”: log in and relax into your favorite playlist streams.

Slacker Radio wants to be recognized as a service for the knowledgeable, the enthusiasts. Its users should want to govern their radio stations and to have their own tastes determine how they pick and arrange their playlists.

iHeart Radio

iHeart Radio screenshot



A very big and very popular service, iHeart Radio boasts a massive, location-sensitive assembly of FM radio stations, ready to stream at the tap of a screen. Using the free app, users can stream local FM stations or genre-specific playlist stations. iHeart optimizes radio in its most classic form: continual access to the stations we already love from hours trapped in commuter traffic, along with the convenience of instant, customizable music streaming.

It’s no surprise that the service has been wildly successful. Rather than discovering entirely new stations or exploring other users’ playlists, you get to hang onto your old DJs and local news—but conveniently sorted by genre.


8tracks screenshot



8tracks is a fun, socially-fueled app that hosts a horde of user-generated playlists, priding itself with “unmatched music discovery” features. The site displays images, including artist images and album art, along with user-generated designs. 8tracks is really driven by social involvement. Users are encouraged to share their playlists, either the ones they created themselves or favorites discovered via their networks.

The site itself is set up in the style of a social network for music, much like Instagram is for images. With its massive user database of playlists, it sports an extensive and diverse selection without much risk of repetition. Although there is a brief ad whenever the app is first opened, 8tracks is free forever. One of the few limitations is the number of songs users can skip, but those limits only exist within playlists. A user can skip from playlist to playlist endlessly to their heart’s content.


SoundCloud Screenshot



Like 8tracks, SoundCloud boasts that its users are synonymous with its content. But with user-generated files, this app pitches itself to both listeners and musicians. “Make careers happen,” it says. “Whatever you create, wherever you are in your career, SoundCloud is for you.”

As well as being a great resource for music discovery, SoundCloud is about fans and communities forming around music. Doubling as a radio app and fanbase builder, SoundCloud is free, specialized and intuitive to use. Like 8tracks, SoundCloud files are designed to be easy to share on sites like Tumblr, which helps musicians reach out to their fanbase. A publicity tool as well as a music resource, SoundCloud is more specialized but equally as accessible as your other free radio options.


Songza screenshot


Songza takes the opposite approach of SoundCloud. Rather than music curated by users with their own music or their own careers, Songza offers a more strictly predetermined space. The layout is minimalist to the extreme: an almost-retro looking gradient display. The choices are, apparently, minimal at the outset. You can navigate by activities, genre, moods or decades, with the most basic, anti-overwhelming design of all the streaming services. It’s a conveniently pared-down alternative to graphic heavy, subdivided layouts. If you just want to hurry up and find some music, Songza might be for you.

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