Staff Picks: Customize your public radio experience with NPR One
At a Glance
I love working from home, and all its myriad perks, but without a commute to sit through, I often miss out on my daily NPR fix. I’ve tried to address this gap using Hourly News, but this Mac app limits me to desk-bound listening—and it gives me only the five-minute news roundup, at that. NPR’s latest venture, NPR One, might change my work-at-home listening, though: This mobile and desktop venture collects and builds a library of NPR reports and podcasts tailored to your listening preferences.
Think of NPR One as your personalized NPR station: It combines reports from your local affiliate with world news, NPR-affiliated podcasts, and short segments to offer you non-stop coverage of the things you care about most. In my testing, once I completed an initial round of tagging favorites (by tapping the “Interesting” lightbulb button above a segment's timeline), it worked very well—within five minutes, I had a queue of podcasts and stories almost exclusively tailored to my NPR interests.
Of course, building this queue requires signing in to NPR in some way: You can use your Google+ ID, Facebook account, or an NPR.org ID. It’s a fairly painless signup process, however, requiring only the use of your location (so that NPR can pair you with your local station) and microphone (which lets you request more information about any of NPR’s advertising partners—the app provides prompts such as “For more information on this movie, say ‘NERO’.”). Once you’ve done this, you’re set to start listening.
By default, NPR One opens with your local station’s call sign followed by the hourly news segment. From there, you can swipe to the right to see any and all programs in your queue, along with what program or podcast each is from, when each was recorded, and how long each runs. You can tap any of these programs to play it immediately, and, if you enjoy it, tap the aforementioned lightbulb button to “like” it. The service initially serves you selections from its top segments; to get more varied fare, you can hit up the search button.
In theory, the app’s search feature allows you to access any of NPR’s recent broadcasts or affiliated podcasts; however, I had some trouble with wording. For example, “American Life” popped up the most recent This American Life, but adding “This” to the query produced no results. I’m also not sure (as a result of this bug) which shows and podcasts you can and can’t subscribe to from NPR One—I can find Marketplace Weekend and Marketplace Whiteboard, but no Marketplace, nor could I get Radiolab to pop up. Many favorite NPR-affiliated podcasts are lurking about, though, as I managed to track down Ask Me Another, The World, Fresh Air, All Things Considered, the Ted Radio Hour, and several others through some creative searching. I hope NPR’s team will fix this in an upcoming update, but in the meantime, you can get around the issue by messing around with various keywords until you find what you’re looking for.
The other thing to note about NPR One is that, like NPR radio stations, it focuses on the most-recent segments. This isn’t the app for you if you want to listen to every episode of This American Life ( though the show does have an app for that) or to catch up on past hourly news reports. Though you can access your recently listened-to segments by swiping left, NPR One instead wants you to focus on current and future segments—to look ahead for your news, rather than play catch up. The app even caches upcoming segments so that you can listen to them even if you’re temporarily offline.
Choose a segment, and the actual listening process is simple enough: The app automatically plays the segment, though you can pause; scrub forward or backward; skip back fifteen seconds; or skip to the next story in your queue. You can also share a link to any broadcast via AirDrop, Messages, Mail, Twitter, or Facebook, or copy a direct link.
NPR One also has a Web client that syncs automatically with your iOS account. Currently, the service’s Web view is limited to listening to the current program and viewing/sharing your past history; you can’t search for programs to add, or view your upcoming content.
If you’re an NPR junkie, or just someone who wants to catch up on what’s going on in the world, there’s no reason not to download this app and give it a spin. It’s yet another strong indicator that NPR is leading the charge in redefining the future of public radio.