By Kailani Koenig-Muenster
Reviewing: Stitcher Radio
Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, recent models from Blackberry, Palm, and Nook, Amazon Kindle Fire, desktop
Should you get it?: Yes, if you're interested in expanding the kind of content you get through radio
Sometimes you just don't want to stare at a screen anymore. If you're like me and you spend a significant part of the day surrounded by the glow of computers, TVs, phones, and other devices, your eyes can glaze over. When it's time to close them and just listen, back comes radio.
Until my smartphone, my relationship with radio had only stayed alive because of the car. I'd listen if I was driving and I didn't have a CD or MP3 plugin anywhere, or if I wanted to dip into the latest news headlines. But I'd almost always end up switching back and forth between the same four or five stations, and I could never call up a favorite show or a specific, contemporary topic on demand.
Now with several radio apps, you don't have to choose and settle. I started with TuneIn Radio, which boasts more than 40,000 stations and streamed seamlessly on my Android phone. Then as soon as someone recommended Stitcher Radio, I haven't gone back.
Stitcher creates a personalized listening experience for every user, "stitching" together information from their actions and listening habits. While TuneIn and other radio apps do make recommendations based on your listening habits, Stitcher steps it up by taking on the Pandora model. While Pandora recommends new songs and bands, Stitcher finds new stations, podcasts, and shows. It even adopted the same "thumbs up," "thumbs down," and "skip" interface Pandora fans are familiar with.
You can search for almost any radio station call letter, show name, news topic, interview subject, band, comedian, speaker, or music genre, and get a stream of relevant results. You can create specific "stations" based on these results, and they seem to pinpoint what you might like better and better over time.
By typing in and exploring "blues" channels, I became a fan of "GLT Blues Next" and "IndieFeed: Blues Music." I could tap back into on-demand music podcasts from KEXP, a station I grew up with in Seattle, but also get suggestions for other stations that play similar songs. Stitcher has almost all of the mainstream cable TV news shows on demand, but will add "Slate's Political Gabfest" and "New Yorker Political Scene" podcasts to that mix.
For straight news, there is a "Front Page" section with "Live Updates," which act almost like an audio version of my Twitter feed. It quickly runs through all of the popular and recent uploads from media around the world, based on your given interests and preferences. And unlike too many phone apps, Stitcher also makes it easy to tweet, Facebook, or e-mail any soundbite as you hear it.
As convenient as this app is, there's room to improve. There are thousands of radio stations you can stream live, but for others, you can only listen to bits and pieces of the broadcast after it's aired. When available, I'd also like to see more of a summary or a transcript for these broadcasts before I decide to dedicate my time to listening (the NPR app does this well). I also wish it were easier to download or archive stations, because when commuting, you lose the sound when you lose service.
Regardless, I'm sticking to Stitcher for now. When it's time to close my eyes, they make it a lot easier to open and expand my ears.