Four images of iPhone touchscreen showing various menus

With the forthcoming Public Radio Tuner installed on an iPhone, click the red logo, and the application opens, offering a scroll of 150 pubradio stations you could hear via wireless Web.

Pubradio ‘tuner’ adds 150 stations to cell phones

Originally published in Current, Nov. 10, 2008
By Karen Everhart

Users of Apple iPhones will soon be able to install an application that puts 150 public radio stations from around the country in their pockets.

Smartphones from BlackBerry and other brands are also gaining similar “radio tuner” apps that pick up stations’ web streams over wireless Internet connections.

Radio apps already available for the iPhone include players that pick up streams from a single broadcaster, such as WRNI in Providence, R.I., and the three services from Minnesota Public Radio.

A second-generation tuner will soon be released by MPR’s affiliate, American Public Media. APM anticipates that its Public Radio Tuner will offer a choice of 150 pubradio stations, according to Melinda Driscoll, new media manager for marketing and channel distribution. The software, to be downloaded without charge via Apple’s online iTunes store, lets users select an Internet audio stream from a scrolling list of participating public radio stations.

To be released early next year: a CPB-funded adaptation of the APM player to be developed by a partnership of NPR, APM, PRI, Public Interactive and Public Radio Exchange (PRX).

The jointly developed player will probably offer even more stations plus additional capabilities. It aims to let users find a local station by using the cell phone’s global positioning system capability, according to Jake Shapiro, PRX executive director. And it will allow searches for pubradio stations by format.

Teaming up

The race to create cool apps for mobile users extends well beyond the iPhone. Users of new BlackBerry smartphones can add audio and video streaming and social networking apps. Google declared last month that the Android operating system for its new cell phone will be open-source: Other phone makers and app developers can use and adapt it. The Open Handset Alliance, which includes Motorola, LG, Samsung, Intel and 30 other technology companies, is promoting Android as the first “complete, open and free” operating system for mobile devices.

For now, Apple’s bustling apps marketplace and the iPhone 3G have a unique appeal as a platform for public radio. “It’s not that iPhone is the biggest platform, but it’s an important one,” Shapiro said.  “It generates disproportionate attention.” Shapiro laid the groundwork for the collaboration after a June visit to Apple headquarters that coincided with the CPB Board’s retreat in Palo Alto, Calif. Apple execs confirmed that public media could build a substantial iPhone following if pubcasters coordinate their efforts, he recalled.

Shapiro approached CPB and the radio networks with a pitch for everyone to “team up and make more happen together,” he said. “We want to take what APM is developing and start building on top of that to create an even more compelling and focused public radio app,” Shapiro said. Although the player will be generically branded as public radio, with NPR’s content it gains “greater marketing presence and buy-in from stations to add content and promote it."

“APM was first out of the gate in working on their application. That’s a boost to the whole thing,” Shapiro said. “We’re giving them credit for doing this and being willing to share what they’ve done.”

NPR Mobile service, which also is free, offers access to NPR newscasts and features through partnerships with 55 stations, but it offers audio on demand, not the live streams that iPhones and other recent smartphones can pick up. Nevertheless, recent usage data show that iPhone users make up most of the NPR Mobile audience, according to NPR.

“NPR has shared their data, and we have also noted that when you create content that’s optimized for the iPhone, there’s an uptick in usage,” Driscoll said. 

The new iPhone 3Gs, priced at $199, have sold well since the model debuted this summer. Apple reportedly sold 6.5 million in three months. Users can install apps to stream Internet-based services such as Pandora, AOL Radio and Last.fm. Several low-priced apps offer access to hundreds of streams. As of last week, 17 different public radio stations were accessible via Stream It All, an iPhone app that sells for $5.99.

After the pubradio partnership unveils the enhanced public radio tuner early next year, it plans to develop apps that let users download audio files on demand, Shapiro said. “Once we get the best versions of our effort together, we’re going to share the technology and code with other public media groups that also want to offer content,” he said.

The partners co-own and co-manage the project, Shapiro said. “If there’s money to be made, there will have to be a revenue-sharing relationship, but our goal is not to make money from this. We’re offering it as a free application to download. But, if it’s popular enough, there are ways to generate revenue for stations and partners and anyone who has a role.”

Web page posted Nov. 11, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC

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LINKS

"If you’re a public radio station, you should be partnering with NPR Mobile and with APM," says Louisville pubcaster Todd Mundt, discussing APM's earlier web tuners, September 2008.

In his blog, Mundt highlights capabilities of a Wunderground tuner app that he'd like to see in pubradio's, October 2008.

Google unveils cell phone software and alliance, reported by CNET, November 2007.

Google and Open Handset Alliance announce open source availability of Android operating system, October 2008. Video presentation on YouTube.

Despite its rising sales in third-quarter 2008, iPhones nabbed less than a fifth of smartphone sales worldwide, barely more than BlackBerrys and half of Nokias, ChannelWeb reported.

With its price reduction to $199, the iPhone is gaining more middle-income buyers, CNET says.

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