NPR One review: A step forward for public radio, a step back for affiliates

Michael Homnick

I am constantly in transit, whether it’s on the train to work, in the car to a friend’s house, or on a plane to cover an event. If it weren’t for NPR and its affiliates, I would be seriously out of touch with the world and everything happening in it. But sometimes I rue wading through all the different programs and offerings, and just want to listen to the ones I like the best. That's what I hoped the NPR One app would do for me.

NPR One, available online and on your mobile device, pegs itself as your own personalized NPR station. It combines reports from your local public radio affiliate with NPR’s own daily newscasts and original programming, as well as short segments you can tune in to when you just want a few quick bites of news. You then mark what you liked listening to by tapping on Interesting, and the NPR One app will factor that in to aggregate what it thinks you’ll want to listen to next.

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If you think this is "Interesting," don't forget to tap it to let NPR One know what you like to listen to.

For your personalized queue to stay tied to you, you’ll have to log in with a Facebook, Google+, or NPR account. The app will automatically set the affiliated station based on your location, but you can change it if there’s another one that’s near and dear to your heart.

Each time you open the app, it will default to the Now Playing tab, which displays the programs playing on your personalized station. There’s also a slide-out menu from the left that offers access to your suggestions and a quick link to donate (which you hopefully already do), as well as a search function, though it had tough time finding some of the other more popular serial programs, like Marketplace. There were also several instances where the app would just hang as it was loading something.

Apparently, the NPR One app also caches whatever is displayed in your feed for offline listening, but there was no indication that anything was actually downloaded, nor was there an option that allowed me to choose whether or not the app is allowed to do so using cellular data. At this point, I'd rather just stick to my tried-and-true method of downloading the episode of whatever programs I like listening to directly to my phone with a podcast app. 

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Suggestions in the NPR One app can be finnicky, but they're tied to what you've found Interesting. 

Also, the NPR One app doesn't offer the feeling that you truly "own" your own radio station. I love listening to my public radio affiliate, KQED, because of the hosts and their daily traffic and weather reports in between segments. Nothing else conjures up a smile on my face like hearing one of Matt Elmore's "Dad jokes" on my commute to work.

While it's great that the NPR One app makes its wealth of public radio podcasts and programs available for on-demand listening, it's definitely not for everyone. This app exists to help NPR's transition with the next generation of public radio listeners, but there's still a few features it needs to implement before it truly becomes your own personalized NPR station. 


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