Which Way, Mobile Apps? A Primer

Our CEO Jake Shapiro’s latest article on PBS’s MediaShift blog parses the pros and cons of various mobile strategies for media organizations. Here’s a taste:

Why go ‘Native’? Won’t the mobile web win out? These questions are part of an active debate that is constantly revisited as the landscape shifts, and answers also depend on who is asking.

…read more on MediaShift!


Last weekend I attended a radio retreat in Medford, Mass., organized by my friend and collaborator, Ari Daniel Shapiro. At the retreat, I gave a short talk on four things producers should-but-often-don’t know about using PRX. I’m summarizing the session, below.

I’m lucky to have something of a 360° view of PRX. As a curator I listen to almost everything that gets uploaded, and I see what stations do and don’t buy. As a help-desk hand I talk to both producers and programmers everyday; I know what about PRX is intuitive, and what folks don’t always understand. And unlike most others on the PRX staff, I’m also an independent producer. When I get home from work, I use PRX as a front-end user to sell my own stories. Here are some things I think every PRX producer should know.

Can I make a living at this?

PRX is a valuable resource for a.) getting mileage out of second-run work, and b.) distributing that awesome creative audio stuff that you do for the love of sound. But you should know that PRX was not designed to pay commission-like rates. We would love to see producers get paid more, and we believe that PRX is a major mover in the effort to improve the economy for independents. In fact, most of the over 9,000 pieces licensed on PRX last year came from independents. But the economic environment for independents is a tough one, so know what you’re working with.

Resource: AIR Excutive Director Sue Schardt’s extensive study, “Mapping the Independent Landscape.”

To clarify about PRX royalties: We don’t take a cut of your royalties, and PRX royalties are no longer a flat rate. PRX allows you to charge $0.50, $1, or $1.50 per minute/per license. If your piece is licensed by a larger station, you may make more than the rate you chose, but you’ll never make less.

PRX is doing a lot to get indie work in front of stations and listeners: More than 400 stations are on PRX; we just launched REMIX Radio as a streaming, satellite and broadcast radio service; last year we boosted royalty rates for producers who get their works aired in major markets; and we are encouraging stations to create local showcase shows so they license and show off more indie work.

Resources: Understand the PRX Economy and royalties.

9,000 pieces? How do I get some of that action?

There are four identifiable factors that contribute to a piece’s popularity on PRX: Style, length, production quality and timeliness. Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts:


  • DO: choose your genre and format carefully. Listen to what’s on the air! Be wary of commentary and radio drama. On the whole, folks just aren’t buying them. (However, excellent productions of each of these genres have gotten good responses, especially when presented with a holiday or news hook.)
  • DO: get lots of different kinds of sound. Do things that stations may not have the time or resources to do themselves. Get field sound, find lots of perspectives, do unexpected stories, write clever narration, and be creative.


Stations are overwhelmingly interested in two kinds of pieces. Hour-long documentaries, specials and weekly series; and segments under 5 minutes. Keep in mind that programmers are often working within very specific network clocks. Resources: network clock diagrams and more stats about piece length.

Production Quality

Good quality sound and clean editing make all the difference.

  • DON’T: use low-quality phone interviews. DO: use a tape sync or two-way.
  • DO: know what tools and skills make great radio. Resources: mic, recorder and software comparisons from Transom.org; production technique advice from AIRmedia.org.

WAIT! Retrofit your audio before you upload.

Picture yourself a year from now in a different part of the country, listening to your piece on the local public radio station. You want your story to make sense then and there just as much as it does in your home city today.

  • Edit out all station IDs. DON’T say: “You are listening to WXPN.” DO say: “This story comes from WXPN in Philadelphia.”
  • Make it evergreen. Edit out any references to dates or events that will make your story irrelevant next week or next month. DON’T say: “Two weeks ago at the corner store.” DO say: “In the spring of 2007, at the Petunia County corner store.”
  • Do a podcast? Great! But don’t say it on the air. Most stations won’t air anything identified as a podcast. So DON’T call it: “The Big Bad Podcast.” DO call it: “The Big Bad Show.” And DO direct your listeners to find your show online, by subscribing to your show’s podcast. It’s subtle, I know.

Pull on them pitch-pants and get marketing.

  • Make it look good. You probably spent 10 or 60 or 100 hours on whatever it is you just uploaded to PRX. Take the time to make it searchable and appealing. Resource: How to Make an Ideal Piece-page.
  • Work that news peg or holiday hook. Send your calendar-pegged stories to the PRX editors. We will consider featuring your stories in playlists, on the homepage, and in our weekly newsletter: prxeditors(at)prx.org. And don’t stop there. Timeliness is magic when it comes to getting on the air. Tell stations about it!
  • Know who’s buying. Every year we publish all kinds of stats from PRX. Get to know the most active stations. We also have a constantly updating feed of purchased pieces. Know what’s selling and who’s buying. Resources: PRX Zeitfunk Awards and our feed of recently purchased pieces, which is also on twitter.
  • Certain local shows rely heavily on PRX for work from independents. Research the show or station you’re contacting and send them stories you know will appeal to them. Keep your eyes out for:
    • KUT O’Dark 30
    • KUOW Presents
    • NHPR Word of Mouth
    • WNPR Where We Live

Resource: We can’t give you the email addresses of Program Directors, but you can learn about contacting stations in our FAQ. And keep those stories coming!

REMIX Radio: It’s Terrestrial!

After 16 months streaming on XM, REMIX Radio — PRX’s remix of amazing stories, cool podcasts and more — is now broadcasting on real-live radio-radio, from the brand new KPBZ 90.3 in Spokane, WA. Thanks KPBZ!

We received such great feedback from our XM listeners that our tech team and the good folks at Backbone Radio couldn’t help themselves but pull on their white coats, get out their test tubes and clone that friendly beast.  Now you can hear REMIX on terrestrial radio, on XM, online and on your iPhone and iPod too.

REMIX Radio is curated and hosted by Remixer-in-Chief Roman Mars, and streams 24/7. Hear what folks are saying!

Bravo. Only been on for a couple of days and don’t want to be without it. Bits on Mandela, border crossings, street dogs, mass hysteria… where have you been all my life? -Ralleuc, KPBZ listener

I was about to throw out my XM radio until you guys came along.  PRX is amazing, I love it.  -Richard, XM 136 listener

This is great. I recently moved to Spokane and…. I’m so excited to hear what you guys have to offer. I’ve been listening for a half-hour and have already heard a Bob Dylan song I’ve never heard and learned something new about Ben Franklin. THANK YOU! -Agille, KPBZ listener

I LOVE your channel.  It is the only one I really listen to and love on XM. Today, you had a piece from The Moth from 2006 around 1:45pm EST.  What a compelling man!  I had an appointment and had to leave the broadcast midway.  I simply cannot bear to not know the ending to the story!!! … Thanks, many blessings and thank you for the many amazing stories and pieces. -Karen, XM 136 listener

Amazing Stuff! -Purav, XM 136 listener

You should join in the fun!

PRX is Hiring!

Does your techie geekdom overlap with your nerdy love of public radio?

Do you listen to Terry Gross while you code?

PRX is hiring a Digital Arts Service Corps member to develop and maintain the website for PRX's Public Radio Player iPhone application. This individual will work full-time for one year at our offices in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, and will receive a stipend and benefits through the Transmission Project and AmeriCorps VISTA.

Get the details and apply online!

About you:

The ideal service member would be extremely familiar with web technology. Experience with software applications for mobile devices is a plus. Demonstrated effective use of social media tools is also a key skill. PRX is a fast-paced environment, and the Corps member will need to be adaptable, able to manage multiple tasks, and good at communicating about timelines and priorities. The Corps member should have a a commitment to the vision and mission of public media.

Continue reading PRX is Hiring!

Youth Radio’s New Reality Checkers

Generation PRX’s Youth Editorial Board now boasts a team of incisive critics from a classroom at San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center. They’ve been listening to and reviewing tons of youth radio on PRX. About City Youth Now on PRX:

We are a group of young males of color, collectively enduring stress and frustration, hoping that soon we will leave and be able to be free and with our families. We are all from the streets of San Francisco. We grew up in both poverty and violence. As a group, we cannot only be defined as the “gangstas” and “thugs” in which society stereotypes us. Rather, our group of unorthodox young men is unique, loving, understanding, intelligent, and we can’t forget charismatic. While our personalities vary, we share interests in education, sports, music, reading, and an undying appreciation for women. During our incarceration, we have developed our life goals . . . READ MORE

Public radio makers — young and old — are always trying to amplify the voices that get lost in mainstream dialogue. PRX is glad to have the editorial insight and unique perspective of these thoughtful young men. Here’s one of their reviews:

“What’s the Most Pressing Youth Issue?” produced by Y-Press at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, surveys youth about what they believe to be the most important youth issues. The interviewees talk about the following issues: the war, stopping violence, the economy, education, oil, and tuition hikes. While these issues are certainly relevant and important on a national level, our critique lies in the fact that none of the interviewees address the day to day pressing issues facing inner-city lower class youth. READ MORE or LISTEN TO THE PIECE ON PRX

Read all reviews from City Youth Now

Find City Youth Now on Generation PRX

PRX is Keepin’ Up With Our Tweeps

PRX is reorganizing its Twitter accounts and thinks you should know that our two pet Twitter robots (twobots?) who tweet all new pieces on PRX and pieces as they get picked up by stations — are being joined by a new, human PRX Twitter stream.

From now on, PRX curators will deliver hand-picked audio daily, right to your browser. You can find your lunchtime (and anytime) listening by following PRX at: Twitter.com/PRX.

What happened to our helpful robots? They’re still here, well fed and busy.

Twitter.com/PRX used to be the home for our automated stream of new pieces on PRX. That stream is now located here: Twitter.com/PRX_New_Pieces. Please sign up!

And the stream announcing pieces as they get picked up by stations hasn’t changed: Twitter.com/PRX_On_Air.

Introducing a new interactive tool for PRX Producers

Our new PRX Pointer will help you get your pieces to show up in search results and score more hits, listens, and licenses.

Take me there!

Below is a snapshot of the PRX Pointer. Purple bubbles point to the most essential parts of the piece page. When you hover your mouse over the bubble, you’ll see a hint pop up. If you click on the hint, you’ll be directed to an in-depth explanation, and instructions on how to edit that part of the piece page.


Check out all of our PRX Pointers

PRX presents at Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s East Coast Conference

So it turns out student broadcasters want more storytelling, more science, fresher voices, and more straight-up spellbinding radio on their college stations.

Say what?

I headed over to Simmons College on Saturday for this year’s Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s (IBS) East Coast Conference, where I chatted with the students and faculty who run college radio stations across the east coast.  At the PRX session we listened to some favorites like The Moth, Radiolab, and Snap Judgment.  Folks wanted to know one thing: “How do I get this stuff on my station?”

The truth is, it’s easy.   PRX station memberships are calculated from a station’s Total Station Revenue, which means nobody pays more than they can afford.  And PRX even has a special deal for LP stations that’s such a bargain it makes full-power stations jealous.  All you have to do is let us know you’re interested.

Simmons student and conference coordinator Deirdre Yee had this to say about PRX after the conference:

“I knew there was tons of other great radio being made independent of the massive NPR, but I had no idea how to find it. . . .  It is a wonderful thing that I can listen to Two Minute Film Noir from [ZBS] in New York, they get a chance to maybe sell their content, and I would never ever have heard of them without PRX.”

PRX Hits the Classroom!

Graduate Students Create Database of Almost 300 PRX Pieces For Use in K-12 and College Classrooms.

Dr. Edna Reid

Dr. Edna Reid’s students at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science used PRX to learn about metadata and databases, and to create a resource for K-12 classrooms.  They first created tags for almost 300 PRX pieces and mapped them to school subjects and grade-levels.  They then rated the pieces for their educational value and wrote reviews describing how each piece could be integrated into educational curricula.   Here’s one of the reviews:

Search for Alien Life in the Universe –  View Piece
Educational Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Dr. Michio Kaku makes science current events very easy to follow and understand, perfect for 4th to 5th grade but really interesting for all. This clip describes the Kepler satellite and the scientific search for signs of life in the galaxies around us. Students will be dazzled by the estimate of one scientist that we will have contact with other life forms within the next 25 years. It also describes a civilization rating scale which is based on the ability of a civilization to control energy and the external environment. Dr. Michio Kaku rates our civilization with this scale and then uses the scale to explore some different possibilities as to why we have had no contact with other life forms thus far.

PRX will also be featured in a workshop presented by Dr. Reid at the Pennsylvania School Library Association’s annual conference this spring. Her workshop will demonstrate how PRX can be used as a tool for understanding databasing and metadata, and as a resource in the classroom.

Dr. Reid is also collaborating with North Carolina lawyer and former English professor Dr. Mary Brown-Scott to create a course in which students map PRX pieces to National Council of Teachers of English standards and North Carolina educational standards.

Check out Dr. Reid’s profile on PRX.org

We’re excited about Dr. Reid’s work with PRX in the classroom, and encourage you to use PRX in ways we haven’t thought of, too. So how are you using PRX? Drop us a line and who knows—your ingenuity could find your story on our blog as well! Just email us at: info (at) prx (dot) org.

A Short Story from Emily, the new “Help” girl.

I was probably on the San Diego Freeway (I was always on the San Diego Freeway,) sealed tight in my car and inching forward in that jaw clenching, hair-pulling gridlock between Los Angeles (home) and the Valley (work) when, despairing, I hit the “FM” button on my stereo. I had come to LA as a music student, and stayed to play in a rock band and teach cello. Despite musical inclinations, I had long since exhausted my CD collection, moved on to my library’s books-on-tape shelf––inexplicably reminiscent of my 8th grade reading list (think: Emily Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne)––and had even listened to 18 lectures on the History of Linguistics. (Sound desperate?) And because driving in Los Angeles always put me in some kind of apocalyptic, existential mood, I was probably meditating on the carbon dioxide rising up from my exhaust pipe, or the clumsiness of a cello in combating abuse of power on Capitol Hill, as I scanned through the local radio stations. Jay Z, The Monkeys, Everlast. . .then, (angelic choir sounds please!) KPCC. That is, Air Talk, Patt Morrison, The Story, Talk of the Nation, Morning Edition, StoryCorps, All Things Considered. From that moment until I left Los Angeles 9 months later, I turned off the radio––dial set permanently on 89.5FM––only while teaching, sleeping, or on the phone. I dreaded the moment between parking my car and turning on the radio in my apartment. With an iPod strapped to my arm like an IV, I brought Terry Gross with me on my morning jogs. I was an NPR junkie.

What is it about the voice that is so comforting? Why do stories move us so? Is it embedded in our culture? Encoded in our DNA? Storytelling is fundamental to our perception of ourselves and each other. Through public radio, we transmit the real and complex stories that inform and create real and complex communities. But healthy communities need all kinds of different voices and stories. Can the handful of local and national public radio shows I love so much sustain a nation of 300 million? A world of 6.5 billion?

That’s why I was so excited to discover PRX last May, and why I am downright thrilled to be starting work here today. That’s right! I can’t wait to help you producers get your pieces up on our site, or help you stations license them for broadcast, because really, I can’t wait to turn on my radio and hear some mindblowing radio!