Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Carlos Latuff, who shares the following FM radio recordings made while flying over northwest Africa. Carlos writes:
Flying over Northwest Africa towards Paris yesterday I managed to listen and record FM stations from countries like Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and Spain, at an altitude of 10668 meters, using the native FM radio of my cell phone. Interesting thing is that it was only possible when I got close to the plane emergency exit. Back to my seat I wasn’t able to listen.
94.3 FM, Senegal, May 11, 2023:
95.0 FM, SNRT Amz Morocco, May 11, 2023:
101.7 FM, Spain, May 11, 2023:
91.0 FM, Mauritania, May 11, 2023:
Thank you for sharing this, Carlos. Impressive reception from your cell phone’s FM receiver!
Without fail, I always try to listen to FM stations as I fly. This also reminds me of a post from our archives when Ivan used a small SDR to DX while on a flight.
Thank you again and happy travels!
regarding AM (MW) reception, it has worked for me in the past, but only at a window seat and holding the radio right up against the window!
High levels of interference from the wiring within the plane may be a barrier to AM, even with the receiver right against the window.
FM reception at altitude is very likely to have co-channel interferers behind the dominant station on a frequency, and with mono reception being much more immune to co-channel interference (than stereo) its is no surprise to read above of ‘poor stereo’ or that receivers may ‘refuse’ to produce stereo on FM stereo stations.
When I used to fly, operation of any radio receiver on board an aircraft required the pilot’s permission. FM/AM receivers have a local oscillator & generate hash. I was told that this could interfere with navigation or communication equipment on the aircraft. By getting the pilots OK, he is made aware of this and can ask you to turn off your device if he is having interference issues.
I have no idea how to look this up, but this rule may still be on the books. Used to be a $10,000 fine for violating this rule some years ago….
I am honestly not sure about the laws, but I was aware of the interference that PLL synthesized radios cause. That’s actually why I make such an effort to use a DSP radio instead. In my testing I have found that they don’t cause the same issues that older traditional radios do.
I actually remember one time in the late 90s I had a RadioShack DX 375. One night while scanning the FM band I got a knock on the door. It was a neighbor from 4 apartments away. She had been having a problem with what sounded like an empty signal blocking out the station she was trying to listen to. Somehow she figured out that it was probably coming from one of the apartments and grabbed a Walkman she had. Needless to say she ended up at my door. When I turned off my radio, the problem went away.
I love listening to FM radio while flying. One thing I have definitely noticed from all my experience is that at 40,000 feet signals are very directional. A window seat is also absolutely a must. I like to use websites such as flight aware to look at the flight path of the flight I am taking so I can figure out which side of the plane to sit on and get the best reception.
For those like myself who own iPhones and don’t get the pleasure of having a built-in FM tuner DSP radios have made life a lot easier for listening while flying. I am currently using a DSP radio that fits in the palm of my hand and looks like one of those mini MP3 players from 2006. This is the radio I’m currently using.
Even on the ground, considering it’s just using the headphone wire for an antenna. I am really surprised at how much it does receive.
Out of curiosity a question to others who are reading the comments. Has anyone tried listening to AM radio on an airplane? I’ve always assumed there would be too much electrical noise inside the plane with all the lights and such but have been curious.
It’s been well over a decade since I’ve flown, but the one time I had an opportunity to bring out a radio, I had zero AM reception in-flight. FM, on the other hand, was great. Poor stereo, and poor RDS but otherwise signals came in strongly.
That’s what I figured might happen, so I never invested the money for any of the DSP radios that had AM reception. it had always been on my mind though. I am traveling soon and had been really thinking about that so thank you for saving me some extra cash. LOL.
With the DSP radio I’m currently flying with. I’ve had great luck with stereo in some places such as flying over the Midwest, where the amount of stations is not as intense as say, flying over Florida or California. Recently on a trip flying west to California once I got beyond Dallas, I actually started picking up some stations with phenomenal stereo sound. On another trip from Atlanta to Milwaukee. It was mono all the way. It seems like the DSP receivers Do a much better job of figuring out when they can provide good stereo.
Interesting experiment, thank you for sharing, Carlos!
I wonder if the inoperability of the FM radio at your seat might have anything to do with intentional or coincidental shielding?
Back in the early to mid 1990s, the Dusit Thani Hotel lobby in Bangkok – a wonderful stately hotel with a lofty lobby – had a beautiful copper ceiling, intentionally or otherwise this served as a Farraday cage that prevented frustrated mobile phone users from yacking away….
As a couple of side bars:
– it’s interesting how many emerging econoimies skip a dense landline infrastructure and moved to mobile technology
– Is this an urban legend? I heard that the reason why mobile phones were banned on flights initially had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with operators’ inability to bill the customer for the call as the phone flew over cellular nodes / sites too rapidly to calculate how much to bill, does anyone know anything about the truth or otherwise of this attractive story?
I did this from a plane as well. Not FM radio, but NTSC Analog TV, from a plane, with a Citizens 3″ B & W LCD TV. I wasn’t allowed to EXT the antenna, so with a 4″ antenna, I was able to receive many LPTV translators from WNED-TV 17 and WKBW-TV 7, CATV quality. I was not able to get any VHF Low stations. Still, it was a neat experiment, that I was able to tote in a shirt pocket for a flight in 1988. I doubt that I could be allowed do that today. Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience.
Too bad the FM radio functions of North American phones are disabled.
Depends on your phone/provider. All the Motorola smartphones phones I’ve had for Android OS have never been disabled. I listen to FM in planes often.
LG phones have generally had enabled radios as well. Although the one on my old V60 was mono and had exceedingly poor reception. My old Sony Ericsson (pre-smartphone era) phone had an excellent FM radio with RDS!