Public Radio Player relaunches

With an alarm feature, download options, and new ways to donate

A new public radio streaming app relaunches this week, giving listeners mobile access to hundreds of public radio stations and the option to download a wealth of podcasts and shows. The new version of Public Radio Player was created by Public Radio Exchange (PRX), the same developer behind apps for popular shows including This American Life and Radiolab. It is free to download, ad free, and exclusively features public radio.

PRP gives users the option of browsing local radio stations, or searching for stations anywhere in the country by location or format (which is split into “news and talk,” “classical,” “jazz,” and “pop, rock, and folk”).

The app also gives the option to go directly to podcasts, which are all available to download. That’s a major advantage over other popular radio streaming apps like TuneIn and RadioBox, which offer straight streaming services with no downloads. The PRX app interface looks great, too, with simple icons to “share” and “favorite” stations while navigating through various windows. A swipe to the right reveals a panel that provides alarm, sleep, download, and social sharing options. And while there was a tiny This American Life ad on the bottom of the app at the time of testing, it never contains commercial ads. It also never features commercial radio stations, which some users might find a problem.

But not everyone. Jake Shapiro, who founded PRX, sees the exclusion of commercial radio as an advantage.

“There is a ton of other radio listening going on, and many apps have tens of thousands of stations,” Shapiro said. “But in news and in music, public radio has a role to help choose, filter, and find things that are important and high quality. The app does that in aggregate.”

The new version is the first big redesign of an app that launched in 2008, right around the premiere of the Apple app store. Technology has moved on in the intervening years, Shapiro said, and as developers at PRX got better at designing app interfaces, they decided to revisit the Public Radio Player to see how it could be improved. When the app first launched, podcasts and shows could only be downloaded via iTunes, not within the app. This update also includes a donate feature that gives listeners the option to click through to the websites of their favorite stations to pledge money.

Shapiro said there is still room for further changes. He continues to lobby Apple to free up their direct payment system to allow seamless donations to public radio. Currently, the radio app redirects donors to station websites to avoid the 30 percent cut Apple takes on all transactions. Apple can change that: It opened up iTunes to charitable donations twice before, for the Japanese earthquake of 2011, and the Haitian earthquake of 2012. “Apple has hundreds of thousands of people who have already pre-stored their credit-card details on iTunes.” Shapiro said. “A move like that would be transformative.”

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Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: ,