Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Smart Phones and Mobile phones and Internet and Surf This and Technology

Stitcher is more than just Pandora for news junkies

June 1, 2009

I really like: a) having something all about me, b) doing something on my own time, and c) having some sort of idea what's going on.

There are,of course, a couple of problems: a) most things aren't about me, b) time is rarely my own, and c) there's so much going on in the world—and at home, and at work—that it is increasingly difficult to have any idea what's going on.

Some of you have adopted a strategy called "timeshifting" to help cope with these realities. Examples include recording TV shows with a digital video recorder so you can watch them when you're ready (often without commercials). A few months ago, I reviewed Hulu.com, which allows you to do the same thing, only using your computer as the DVR.

A few years ago, I bought a nifty device from Griffin Technologies called a RadioShark. The cool little computer peripheral allowed me to receive AM/FM radio transmissions through the computer and record shows to listen to later. I did quite a bit of listening, but recording for later playback just never became standard operating procedure. (Incidentally, the newest version, RadioShark2 is available from www.griffintechnology.com.)

Still, this whole radio thing has bugged me. Have you ever been listening to a story on National Public Radio, arrived at your destination, and then sat there in the car to hear the end of the story? It's happened to me. In fact, it's happened to so many people that they have a name for it: driveway moments. I've often found myself wanting to hit nonexistent pause or skip buttons. Then I found Stitcher (www. stitcher.com).

Stitcher bills itself as "a leading mobile audio company that provides a revolutionary media service which allows audio content to be easily aggregated, organized and shared on mobile devices."

That's a lot of jargon that means it's a little like a DVR for radio, except that it can run in two places: either on your computer or (drumroll, please) on your mobile phone. (The Apple iPhone and four Black-Berry models are currently supported.)

I have it on my iPhone, and it's one of a handful of applications I use nearly every day. At its core, it's simply an access point for pre-recorded radio programs. But in use, it's so much more. The Stitcher staff has compiled a few "station pre-sets" to help you easily make the most of the service. For example, there's an "Updated Hourly" station that plays the most recent newscasts. It begins with NPR, and when that finishes, it plays CNN's last newscast. And then Fox. And then MSNBC. And, if you listen in the evening, you're likely to hear NBC News with Brian Williams.

If news isn't your thing, you can listen to one of the other presets on topics ranging from sports to religion to technology to learning. Stations like "Arts & Culture," which features "Writer's Almanac" and "The Moth," (a very hip storytelling podcast), "Comedy," with "The Onion" and "Car Talk, " "Health and Medicine," with "Discovery Health" and "Paging Dr. Gupta," "Sports" with ESPN and "PTI," and several others.

There's even a broadly based and aptly named "Stitcher's Picks," which highlights the shows the Stitcher staff likes the most.

If you like a little more control in your life, you can also choose the shows by their source (instead of a preset). This is like the difference between a variety show and a focused broadcast (though that sounds like an oxymoron). The sources include standards like ABC News, BBC, AP, Discovery Channel, The New York Times, Slate, The Washington Post and more.

And everything is available for free. You can download the application to your phone or listen at your desk. If you're a podcaster (you know who you are) and you'd like to increase your audience, you can work with Stitcher to get your content on its system. Overall, Stitcher is advertising-supported, so even if you're not a listener and you don't create content, you can take advantage of the growing number of people looking for mobile media.

I know from the comments I've received that many of you have become big Pandora fans since I wrote about it last June. Perhaps the easiest way to describe Stitcher is to say that it's like Pandora for talk radio, news and podcasts (instead of music).

With Stitcher, you can find a station that matches your interests, listen to it whenever you like, and maybe learn a little something in the process, which meets all the criteria on my "things I like" list.
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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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