WBUR will receive a $400,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help build a new platform for listening to local and national stories on mobile devices, the station said Monday.
WBUR general manager Charles Kravetz described a “spoken-word Pandora” that instead of streaming the station’s live broadcasts will compile a playlist of individual stories and segments. Listeners will be able to skip stories that do not interest them and queue up the ones that do. Over time, the app will learn listeners’ preferences and automatically present stories about the economy or the arts, for instance, before others.
Kravetz acknowledged the new service, on track for beta testing in the first quarter of next year, could pull listeners away from live radio, his station’s bread and butter.
“The reality is this could be very disruptive, as Pandora is disruptive to music listening,” he said. “But our content will be there, and if we do not disrupt ourselves, then clearly the world will disrupt us anyway.”
Because the gift is a matching grant, WBUR will have to raise $400,000 on its own to secure the money. The station already has raised more than $100,000 for the project.
WBUR is one of six public radio stations getting a slice of grants to NPR that total almost $17 million. In addition to funds from the Knight Foundation to help member stations develop mobile listening platforms, NPR is receiving money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wallace Foundation, Ford Foundation, and several individual donors.
The grants will help NPR expand its multimedia coverage of targeted issues, including education, race, and global health.