NPR One: the Netflix App For Public Radio

FULL DISCLAIMER: I am not a regular listener of NPR. With that said, I’m just going to start by saying the NPR One application shocked me.


As an avid user of free Spotify (not premium – I don’t want to pay for that on my college budget), I expected to download the NPR One app and to sign over my sanity due to commercials playing every 15 minutes. This was not the case.

Unfortunately, much like any radio station I would listen to in my car on the way to school back in my high school days, the advertisements from sponsors were spoken by Guy Raz. Although not as invasive or startling as Spotify advertisements, it was annoying to take a break and listen to someone telling me to purchase a product while I was enjoying a TED talk.

I do understand that when something is free that someone has to pay. So this doesn’t entirely ruin my experience with the application, but my ears could always handle less.

When I started to play around with the application, I was pleasantly surprised. The ‘explore’ page made it convenient for me to browse options and find descriptions of each radio show while the home page offered me recommendations.

After exploring options like “Planet Money – #283: Why Do we Tip?” and “Pop Culture Happy Hour”, I finally settled on the “TED radio hour”.

I enjoy watching TED talks so I was shocked to find this category in the app and to enjoy listening to the talk without video. After about 20 minutes of 2 separate TED talks, I turned to the tailored content and let the application customize my experience.

The application first delivered me “Karen Korematsu asks Michigan to honor her father’s fight for civil liberties”. I listened for about 1 minute before skipping forward twice to a politics story: “How Exactly Do the Iowa Caucuses Work?”. Because this was 3 minutes long and the political scene interests me, I listened to it in full and utilized the ability to tag the story as ‘interesting’.


As Justin Ellis explains in his article, the NPR One app utilizes an algorithm to use this function along with the the ‘skipping’ function at the bottom of the screen to tailor the stories to the user.

Following this, the stories were customized to my political interest and I was offered “Clinton Runs as Wonk In Chief, Trying to Win Hearts with Plans”. Without skipping a beat, the radio quickly transitioned to “Roundtable: Donald Trump’s Media Tactics”.


If I’m being completely honest, the first thing that came to mind was this popular photo.

Regardless, despite my first instinct being to skip the story, I began to listen and genuinely found it interesting because of my position in the Millennial generation and as a voter in the 2016 election. However, I had enough of the political talks and skipped a few until the application acknowledged and offered a health story: “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep”.

The app then provided me with a local Michigan Radio story titled “‘Our obsession with tax cuts’ has led to a crumbling infrastructure”. I found this interesting for two reasons. First, it discussed topics interesting to myself, and second it was extremely relevant to the local areas in Michigan.

The next story, “Book Diagnoses Darwin with Anxiety and Warhol as a Hoarder”, was rather boring and I found myself in the same position as Kelly McBride was in: after skipping this story once, I didn’t hear from this station again.
“Is My Phone Eavesdropping On Me?” followed, disheartening me for any more local
stories until my last, and possibly favorite, story to
listen to was a local one from WUOM-FM: “Brady, Jim Harbaugh, and ‘The Beav’ who brought them together”. This was great because 122914-CFB-Jim-Harbaugh-Michigan-JL-PI-BB.vresize.1200.675.high.32for local news, it was something that both interested me and was a story I have never heard about.

With that, I ended my first, and arguably last, session with the application.



Overall, I would give the NPR One application an “A” for convenience, a “B+” for customization, a “B- for options, and “C” for local content.

The application successfully took my preferences of “interesting” and acknowledged my skips to provide custom content for me. With that said, even though the selection was far greater than I was expecting on the “explore page”, I found a lot of the content something I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to with the exception of the TED talks.

Cumulatively, the NPR One app receives a “B- because it did in fact exceed my expectations, but I also think there is work to do to appeal more to people who don’t normally listen to NPR. Especially falling short with the local content – I did receive a few pertinent Michigan stories, but found that the application largely supplied me with national content in politics. I would rather hear updates for on campus information or more tailored to the sports in Detroit.


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