This was my first time listening to NPR on my own accord. Over the years I have passingly heard it playing in the background. It has a certain recognizable tone to it that is further bolstered by constant lines like “This is NPR news…” that make it difficult to mistake NPR news for anything else.
I approached my first true NPR experience by listening to just over an hours worth of content on their website. The structure of the site was a bit jarring at first, and learning to navigate its sometimes labyrinthine-like drop down menus of its wealth of content was a bit off-putting at first. I took the advice of seasoned NPR listeners and started with listening to the show “All Things Considered.”
Immediately I recognized the trademark “NPR sound” of the reporters. They speak in such a way that sometimes lacks personality and enthusiasm, but there is something alluring about the way they deliver their lines of dialogue. When there is more than one reporter, they bounce off of each other like a game of table tennis, each delivering a line before handing it off to the next.
The reporting aspect is what makes NPR so darn interesting to listen to, the way the stories are delivered makes you feel like you are watching a television broadcast, only on NPR they do not have the luxury of showing you images. The aid them in contextualizing a story, they often use vivid words and details to paint a picture in your mind.
One great example would be a story I listened to about an Asian American rapper. I personally have no interest in rap, but hearing the reporter describe this person we could not see as having a “sapling waste, impish grin and a sketchy mustache that still hasn’t come into its own,” it really brought me into the story as if I were watching a story on television or reading a great piece of journalism online or in print.
In almost all of the stories I listened to, at least ones that lasted for several minutes, there seemed to always be an interview with an expert or someone affected by the story. When you traditionally think of a radio interview, you think of the subjects being interviews getting the bulk of air time droning on and on about their area of expertise. Not on NPR. They seem to carefully select the very best lines of dialogue that help illustrate the most important parts of the story. Such careful selection of interviewee lines makes the stories flow smoothly, so you never get hung up on one droning quote for too long.
The last thing I want to touch upon is the unbundling of content on their website. I am not sure if any other radio news sites practice the same system, but I was pleasantly surprised that NPR allowed me to go in and create my own custom playlist of news stories. What I mean by the unbundling of their stories is that instead of having to listen to an entire news show as a whole, which is still entirely possible, I am able to go in and hand-pick stories from across the various sections of their site. Once I have selected all of the stories that are most interesting to me I can play them back as a playlist, much like an iPod music playlist. It is like I am personalizing my very own news feed, something that I found to be highly enjoyable.
Overall my time spent listening to NPR was highly enjoyable. I would not say it was perfect, but I was impressed at the broad array of topics covered. Everything from the creation process of Jurassic Park’s dinosaur roars, to the latest developments in the Boston Marathon bombing. I think NPR has earned a new listener.