A few months ago I joined the 21st century and removed my immense CD collection from my car, consigning the discs to the obsolete section of the attic beside the fax machine and phone directories. To replace the void of my old mix tapes, and because I now have an aux cord—hence the CD evacuation—I’ve become an enthusiastic convert to podcasts and talk radio. So I was eager to explore NPR One, a new audio app that streams public radio news and stories.
After logging into the app through Facebook, I’m presented with an Hourly Newscast from Jack Speer. The nationally produced segment is 3 minutes long and includes a report of violence in Israel, a farewell to Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary, and some gibberish about the Dow Jones.
Speer’s broadcast is followed by the familiar voice of Jennifer White, Michigan Radio’s All Things Considered host, whose 3 minute Local Newscast covers inflated home assessments in Detroit, water purity in Flint, and a dispute over the repair costs of Ford’s new truck. It’s not earth-shattering information, but it’s a nice way to keep abreast of local and statewide news—something I’m trying harder to do.
The app promises that “News of your community is seamlessly woven into your listening experience” and it seems to deliver on that promise. I tag Jennifer White’s newscast as “interesting” (uninteresting is not an option), and wonder how much control I’ll have in deciding how the differing news segment are woven together.
Next up I listen to an absolutely horrifying segment on the Koch network’s plan to spend $900 million on political activities in 2016. This hard-hitting report (also 3 minutes) is followed, naturally, by a 7-minute investigation into the origins of kazoos. I skip this and listen to a segment detailing a breakthrough in why we need sleep and then proceed to coverage of a hostage negotiation in Jordan. Everything thus far has been in the 3-7 minute range, until I’m brought to a 38-minute health podcast discussing the science behind moody teenagers.
Over the next hour, it becomes increasingly clear that the app is not so much a personally customizable radio station but a series of newscasts curated by NPR. The option of tagging something as “interesting” seems to have minimal effect, and you don’t have the option of creating your own channel of preferred podcasts and segments. There also doesn’t seem to be a way to save stories and listen to them later without Wi-Fi, which is something that definitely needs to be addressed in updated versions.
Still, the mix of local and national news bursts with in-depth reporting is great, especially given the ease of access one has to skip around. You can also see what’s coming up next, making the listening experience markedly different from tuning into a local NPR station.
It might not be the perfect app, but NPR One offers a great way to catch up on news and podcasts while also finding stories that you might otherwise ignore.