Audiofiles Activates Public Radio's Online Fan Network

It's Sunday evening, and radio lovers are sharing the best pieces they've heard—or made—recently.  Micah Gordon offers up a segment from a spoof show he produces. Jesse Farrell recommends a CBC radio interview that features the late contrarian Christopher Hitchens talking Orwell. And Lisa Tobin, the spark that ignited this digital campfire, highlights an NPR explainer on "Tebowmania."

Tobin is the driving force behind Audiofiles, a site and Twitter stream dedicated to helping users "share and discover great radio." By day, she's a producer at Boston-based WBUR, but for the past few months, her free time has been devoted to hunting down great stories to showcase. Tobin was inspired by LongReads, which serves up links to longform print pieces. "I really value the way that it curates content for me," she says. She began working on an audio equivalent in mid-September with backend help from former colleague Andrew Phelps, who now covers public media innovations for the Nieman Journalism Lab

Audiofiles is geared to a new generation of listener. "I love and listen to a lot of public radio on the radio," says Tobin, "but the vast majority of my friends are listening on computers, phones, etc. There's no one centralized place for that content." The site itself does not host audio; instead it provides a suite of tools for finding, flagging and storing links to those pieces that really strike a chord. 

"What's distinctive about LongReads and Audiofiles is that we're not limited to one provider," explains Phelps. "We're a meta-aggregator." This means that it's possible to surface compelling stories not just from public radio, but from podcasts and commercial shows too. What's more, the project is designed to drive traffic back to the makers and program sources, rather than siphoning traffic away for the sake of ad views.

Audiofiles provides various points of entry into a running conversation about what makes for great storytelling. On Twitter, you can follow @audiofil_es to see Tobin's curated recommendations, or tag tweets with #audiofiles to highlight your own favorites. On the site, you can also create personal playlists by logging in with your Twitter handle. There, Tobin provides more context about selected pieces, including descriptions, producer names, air dates, length, and most intriguingly, mood—choose from from awesome to dark, sweet to haunting, and beyond.

Tobin has done the bulk of the tagging, and says she's learned some interesting things about fellow producers along the way. "There are some people you are constantly tagging strange and haunting," she notes, "others you're constantly tagging silly." She and Phelps have also recruited a few other well-known "audiophiles"—such as Salt Institute instructor Michael May and NPR reporter Sonari Glinton—to share their own favorite picks. An on-the-nose Radiolab spoof by Gordon that they posted earned them some attention from host Jad Abumrad. And while producers from particular shows are posting stories, Tobin says, so far they're being selective, rather than treating the stream like a promotional space.

"It has really been fun to have reporters and producers submit their own stuff without us asking them to," Tobin says. Her next goal is to make their work more visible to stations, and in the process to glean more suggestions about notable local reporting.

Right now, the volume of stories is manageable in Tobin's spare time. But, she jokes "I'd like to make my life much more difficult—I'd like to be overwhelmed by the number of submissions and not be able to get through them all." She and Phelps are aiming for broader mainstream adoption—with the hope, says Phelps, that Audiofiles becomes "not just a web site or a Twitter feed, but a platform...a place where you hear great radio."

On the AIR blog, we regularly profile inventive makers and projects that reflect a broader vision for public media. Looking for more inspiration? Join AIR's New Network today.