I’m in love.
It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen this hard for a radio app. The object of my desire? NPR One.
I listen to NPR One in the car. I listen while I walk. I have even been known to bring this app with me to the place where I dream at night.
Why do I find it so appealing? “Discovery” is its main selling proposition. With gazillions of podcasts out there, I love that NPR is learning what I like by tracking my behavior and then pushing me to discover new shows. It’s like Pandora for podcasts and spoken-word programming.
Choose your “local station.” It will automatically choose a home station based on your location, but you can manually adjust this.The app’s “Explore” tab shows popular and featured content, as well as recommended new programs that are personalized for you based on your indicated interests and listening habits. The longer I listen and the more I tap the word “interesting,” the more stories and shows come up that I personally find appealing. Sure, I don’t enjoy every new show or segment NPR One serves me, but I’d say it’s right half the time. For someone as persnickety as I am, those are good odds!
You can also use the search function to explore topics or to look for specific programs, all of which can be accessed on demand.
It’s super cool to get NPR’s over-the-air stories just minutes after they are broadcast, as well as on demand. It is also possible to check numerous stories quickly, listening only to what’s personally interesting or relevant.
Now, just as love-at-first-sight can be brought down to earth after some time, there are flaws in this gorgeous app. But they aren’t serious turn-offs (for me) and may well be remedied by the developers in the future.
THE NOT-QUITE-AS GOOD
A short feature called “Songs We Love” serves up a pick from NPR’s music staff, which, by the way, does a fantastic curation job. However, this feature could use a quick voiceover announcing the song title; those of us listening to NPR One while we drive, walk or run are not looking at our screens to see band names and titles. The same idea applies to many shows that could use a very brief intro, custom-cut for the app.
The local station inserts with news and features add a charming scent. I tested three stations: WLRN, Miami; KQED, San Francisco; and WOUB at Ohio University, Athens (my long-ago employer and alma mater). The quantity of localism varied by station, but — you know me — none of them offered quite enough “local” for my taste. This is new territory, so it will no doubt take time for the folks at member stations to recognize its power for increased reach and even for local fundraising.
The audio quality is typically fine and dandy. However, NPR One is plagued by audio loudness and softness issues, which I’m sure they get quite a bit of grief about. It’s addressed in their FAQ section, where they state that they are working on it.
When used to its full potential, member stations can use the app as a tool to remind listeners about pledge drives and other station announcements. I’m lucky to have unlimited data on my iPhone, so I don’t worry about bandwidth. I have noticed that, when using a mobile data connection instead of Wi-Fi, I do experience drop-out and non-connection more often with NPR One than with several other streaming apps that I regularly use. This will vary by phone carrier, plan or device, so before you write a letter to the editor, please know that I know that you know that not everyone will have that experience.
The app also seems to drain my phone’s battery more quickly than some others. That appears to be due to the art that accompanies some of the stories, which looks great but may not be worth the energy for some users.
What else could be improved? A few minor things that tend to bug broadcast guys like me: Script writing and audio production. The first time I opened the app, a voice shouted at me, “Hey, NPR One!” Reflexively, I almost turned it off. My name is not “NPR One,” so I don’t know why you are saying this to me, and besides, it sounds amateurish and out of character.
More on personality: Studio production quality on the NPR broadcast network has forever been safe and unimaginative. Back when, this may have conjured the “we are a serious news organization” image, but in this era, it’s just plain boring. Fortunately, audio production is somewhat better on NPR One than on the network; at least the producers seem aware that their new app deserves more pep.
I hope they’ll take advantage of one of the many creative agencies that can make magic with short promotional audio to fit any personality; I’ve worked with people on the commercial side who can paint your mind with 10 seconds’ worth of sound. If NPR One can’t afford top-notch, in-house creative talent, it’s worth their investment to sign on with a creative agency.
NPR One is available via:
• Apple App Store
• Google Play
Another little imperfection: I know that live station streaming exists on NPR’s other news app, but for those of us who don’t use it much, it’s an inconvenience not to have the same ability on NPR One.
A final confession from this man-about-town: I cheat on NPR One with Stitcher. I’ve been listening to the Stitcher app for years, logging 538 hours and 7,099 episodes. It’s irresistible. NPR One could take a beauty tip from Stitcher’s robust streaming, off-line listening and folder organization.
But even with its flaws, I’m still bedazzled, smitten, lost in my mind.
Did I mention that you can drift off to La-La Land with the NPR One sleep timer? For my part, I’ve tried and failed. When you’re in love, large quantities of compelling content are more powerful than caffeine.