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Test Drive: RadioPublic delivers loads of free podcasts, but for who?

radiopublic-screenshotPodcasting is in a boom, but the audio format still has a long way to go before achieving mainstream familiarity. Tools like RadioPublic seem designed to be an entry point into podcasting by making the discovery process simpler for a newbie listener. The app, which is the work of podcast notables from PRX, bills itself as a curation resource, with top talent in the podcasting space picking out the latest and greatest programs or just clearly collecting shows into topics.

I saw lots of familiar names in browsing around the app. You’ll find programs from the NPR and WNYC folds, shows like Radiolab, 2 Dope Queens, or Fresh Air. Even though I recognized a good chunk of the content, I appreciated the recommendation angle. Fresh This Week is a playlist of interesting episodes, and each show is accompanied by a note from some podcast luminary describing it. That endorsement is great, although I think the most helpful ones give more background so that I could decide whether I would really get into that program. So the curation element does exist, but I think it could even be more pointed. Especially since getting enough shows queued up to make for a good personalized audio stream will take some time and digging from the user.

The app is free to use, and it seems like any revenue would be generated by sponsored playlists. For instance, the top carousel today includes a series of productivity-focused shows selected by HubSpot. It was a simple, unobtrusive branding and the choices were on-point. I like seeing (and hearing) that combination.

The service is cool and I enjoyed my time poking around it. But my big question after spending some time with the app is: who does RadioPublic want to reach? Hardcore podcast fans seem most likely to find and download the app, but it may not be more useful than their existing listening systems. Free listening is fantastic, but that may not be enough to hook new ears into the project. For those people with friends who won’t stop talking about how great Serial is, this is a useful gateway into podcasting. The challenge for RadioPublic is to activate those newcomers to download and use the app.

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Anna Washenko

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