Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Increasingly, when Americans want information or entertainment, they turn to online sources. This is no small matter to old media companies who've watched everything from recorded music to weather forecasts to sports scores and classified ads become available on new media. Newspapers and TV networks are being obliged to reimagine themselves or decline or even fail, as we saw last week with the Rocky Mountain News.

Public radio stations have found themselves competing with mp3 players and podcasts for listeners, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. And thanks to a new technology, there is now a new way for those radio stations to compete. I'm holding an example of this in my hand on an iPhone, which I can now play and listen to any one of more than 200 public radio stations from all over the country. Right now I am tuned to KAZU, 90.3, NPR for the Monterey Bay area and this is their HD2 signal.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Man: …from Ghana…

SIEGEL: This is all a new application or app, which is called the Public Radio Tuner and it's doing big business, we're told, at the iTunes store. Jake Shapiro, who is executive director of PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, helped develop the tuner and he joins me now from Boston. Tell me what I'm doing right now? What am I listening to? How am I listening to it?

Mr. JAKE SHAPIRO (Executive Director, PRX): You're listening to an Internet radio stream from a local public radio station. These stations have been offering online simulcasts of their broadcast signals for a long time, but what this application does is make it much more convenient to access them all on the handheld device, in this case the iPhone. So you're really tuning in the local broadcast, but it's simulcast on the Internet, streamed from these different stations.

SIEGEL: Give us some disclosure here. NPR had a role in developing this application?

Mr. SHAPIRO: Yes, actually, this was a unique partnership. We managed to get all of the alphabet soup of public radio organizations together to collaborate, with support from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. So, NPR, PRI, American Public Media shared resources and helped develop this and launch it earlier this year.

SIEGEL: So this is an Internet connection to the iPhone. If I had it in my car and we were mobile right now, the signal would stick with me all the way and if I connected it to my console, I could listen to radio that way?

Mr. SHAPIRO: Well, that's really part of what's transformative about this. You can, over the 3G network, when you're on the cellular side of things, continue to listen to the stream. So, yes, you plug it into your car dashboard, you can listen when you're out of range of a typical radio signal or an internet signal. And that's something that's, I think, found a lot of uptake by listeners who are seeking to be able to carry this with them wherever they go.

SIEGEL: So some of those young people we may see with the buds in their ears walking around may not be listening to music that they recorded on their iPod or some other mp3 player, but they could be listening to a radio station from 2,000 miles away at that moment.

Mr. SHAPIRO: I think, in fact, many of them are starting to do exactly that. I know certainly that on my walk to work with those ear buds in I'm hearing Boston and during the cold walk home, when I've missed the favorite show locally, I will dial in the L.A. station to listen to, for example, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, a few hours later on the east coast. And kind of enjoy, in a perverse way, the L.A. traffic (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAPIRO: As I'm crossing the bridge between Cambridge and Boston.

SIEGEL: Well, what greater application could one ask for than that right there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Would the fidelity be comparable to an over-the-air FM radio signal or less so?

Mr. SHAPIRO: Less so. And usually that's a good thing because in order for it carry over these cellular networks, you often don't want to have too high a quality because it might start to break up or buffer. So you're sacrificing a bit of audio quality for the portability, at least for now, until they start to really improve some of those networks.

SIEGEL: To the rare person who's saying we offer quantity, not necessarily quality.

Mr. SHAPIRO: That's right. It's a selling point.

SIEGEL: Yeah. And if I'm driving home to northern Virginia, happily tuning into some Alaska radio station, and I get a phone call, will it automatically interrupt and override the application?

Mr. SHAPIRO: It will, absolutely, and vice versa. Eventually we hope to make it so that during pledge time you could call directly into the station and support them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAPIRO: When they're telling you to on the stream.

SIEGEL: I knew we'd get to that eventually. Jake Shapiro, thanks a lot for talking to us and showing off your very cool device.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Thanks very much.

SIEGEL: Jake Shapiro, who is executive director of the Public Radio Exchange, which has developed the Public Radio Tuner. And there's more about this at our Web site, npr.org.

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