Before you even think about saying "fake" or something like that, I swear on my life this is real.

I am sitting in a hotel room in New Orleans right now, with my headphones on. Instead of hearing audio from my computer, I am hearing local radio stations, such as the Spanish station I am hearing right now. There are no open programs, so this audio can't be coming from an app.

This does not play through the speakers. It only plays through the headphones when the computer is on (including GRUB).

Is my integrated wireless card somehow receiving radio waves? What is happening? This is the first time I've ever experienced this, and I have no idea how or why.

If it helps, the volume and clarity of the radio streams changes as I move my head and/or my laptop.

  • 5
    You may be interested to hear how little is needed to hear a local radio signal: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_radio (those radio receivers do not even need a battery).
    – Takkat
    Jul 18, 2015 at 20:01
  • 3
    People were doing this back in the 30s and up to as far as the 70s even with a crystal set. Wind you a coil around a Quaker Oatmeal container and plug in your earphones basically. Actually, this is why Quaker became so popular, since in order to wind the coil on there, you had to eat all the oatmeal in the box (if you didn't performance would be seriously degraded).
    – Daniel
    Jul 19, 2015 at 2:07
  • Remember to mark an answer as the solution if it solved your problem.
    – Daniel
    Nov 23, 2017 at 5:14
  • I have experienced this, too, but I was using a very long audio cable and an analog amplifier. This is unrelated to any software, let alone Ubuntu, so off-topic here.
    – Melebius
    Jul 1, 2019 at 9:16

2 Answers 2


OK, I'm an amateur RF engineer, so I know roughly what's happening.

Either your sound card or the headphones themselves are picking up the RF energy from a local AM or shortwave radio station. The wave is being rectified in the headphones and the audio is reproduced.

This can be solved by using shielded cables, and by buying RFI eliminating snap on chokes from your local RadioShack or other hobby electronics stores. Amazon also has RFI chokes available.

  • 1
    If the headphones cable is acting as an antenna, particularly if you're picking up FM stations, changing the length of the cable by adding an extension might also reduce the sound; a longer wire might pick up more as a general rule, but if the new length is not resonant at the frequency that you're picking up and the original length was, then it could dampen it. If you have an 1/8" extension cable on hand (unlikely in a hotel room) it won't hurt to try. Jul 19, 2015 at 5:48
  • 1
    It would be interesting to find what station you're receiving, to know both what frequency it is (and if the wavelength relates to the length of your headphone cable) and how close you are to the station (if you're next door to an antenna pumping out 250kW, it's going to get into a lot of stuff!) Jul 19, 2015 at 5:48
  • 1
    He's probably not receiving FM stations, he's likely picking up AM, since he said it was a Spanish station (not many Spanish stations in New Orleans...). Changing the length probably wouldn't help much for AM, since it's already nowhere near resonance.
    – Daniel
    Jul 19, 2015 at 19:14

Having the same issue today and no shielded cable, I managed to minimize the effect by putting computer volume at max and speakers at low. Of course, works with speakers, not for headphones.

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