News & Politics

NPR Leads the Way in Podcasting

It turns out that NPR may be the leading podcaster of radio content and music in the country. Who knew?

When Apple unveiled its latest iPods with video-download capabilities, the Apple ads pictured iPod screens with Bono, Harry Potter, and National Public Radio’s morning news team.

Bono, Harry Potter, and NPR?

It turns out that NPR may be the leading podcaster of radio content and music in the country. Who knew?

Last fall Radio World, a trade newspaper, bestowed its “Cool Stuff” Award on NPR for its innovation in the development of multicasting. NPR is supposed to be a staid public-radio network of member stations that produces uncool programming about things we need to know.

“We counted 6 million downloads in the last month—over 20 million since we launched in August,” says NPR’s Andi Sporkin. “NPR is the most prolific podcaster among media companies.”

By February, NPR was podcasting all of its hourly newscasts, as a package and updated through the day. Sponsors such as Acura, HBO, Intel, and Vanguard have signed on to reach a different market through podcasting.

NPR’s effort to get its reports and programming to an audience by a means other than radio has been picking up speed. Planners and insiders refer to their podcasting initiative in “waves,” the first of which broke in August when the network started beaming to iPods.

Another wave is expected to be in place by the end of May, according to Sporkin. NPR plans to expand its iPod-only offerings with more original programming from its member stations and from NPR in Washington.

Ironically, NPR’s podcasting is not being financed by income from the $200-million contribution of McDonald’s heir Joan Kroc. Sporkin says it’s being funded by sponsorships, and the network is actually taking a loss on podcasting.

Behind the scenes, officials from NPR and its community of more than 800 stations have been meeting to ponder “its place in the universe” of new media, according to Sporkin. In workshops held last fall and continuing in last week’s annual meeting, NPR planners have charted a course toward increased expansion into new technologies such as digital radio.

NPR’s ascendancy into digital radio is backed by years of research by NPR Labs. Mike Starling, NPR’s chief technology officer, runs a shop that has become a leader in advancing radio technology.

Now you can hear Diane Rehm’s “Friday News Roundup” on an iPod as well as Kojo Nnamdi’s “Tech Thursday” show and archived pieces such as Morning Edition’s 1980 segments “On Words With John Ciardi.”

NPR has created a new brand called Alt.NPR for its podcasting programs, which include the likes of On Gambling With Mike Pesca, an NPR correspondent.

NPR is clearly placing it bets on new ways of reaching and expanding its audience.