Personalize VPR with Amazon’s Alexa

Mar 29, 2017

In recent months we’ve heard from more listeners using Alexa, and similar intelligent personal assistants, to listen to Vermont Public Radio. We wanted to give you an update on what works, and what we’re working on to make VPR news, music and podcasts easily accessible when you need it.

Update 3/29/17
You can now get local news when you need it the most by adding VPR to your Alexa Flash Briefing.

“From the studios of Vermont Public Radio, this is VPR news.” Listeners hear this well-known phrase often, but now Amazon Tap, Echo and Dot users no longer have to wait for this regularly scheduled bit to receive our latest newscast.

To add this feature to your device, use the Alexa app to access your Flash Briefing settings. Once you open your Flash Briefing settings, search for VPR and choose to ‘Enable Skill.’

After you add VPR to your Flash Briefing, simply ask, “Alexa, what’s the news?” and Alexa will assemble the most recent news updates from your chosen sources. It’s a fast, easy way to hear the local news from your favorite VPR announcers like Mitch Wertlieb, Jake Rusnock, Liam Elder-Connors and Annalise Shelmandine.

Stay tuned for more updates. We are working to further personalize Alexa listener experiences and will keep this post updated with the latest features.

Some Background
Over the past decade, rapid developments in smartphones have transformed culture. But now that this technology has moved beyond smartphones and into the fiber of our homes, we’re faced with a burly reminder that radios aren’t the only devices from which to hear VPR news and music.

This reminder comes with the news that a family of little speakers with big brains topped Amazon’s list of best-selling items last year. Sales of the Echo, Dot and Tap shot up nine percent over last year, making 2016 the best ever holiday season for the online retailer. These devices use artificial intelligence to do everything from ordering pizza and locking your front door to much simpler tasks—playing your favorite public radio station.

Ask the device a question and you’ll get an animated and modulated response from Alexa, a cloud of information that continually learns functionality the more you use her. So, what happens when you ask her to play VPR? Although Alexa is intelligent, she doesn’t always respond in exactly the way you might expect. Here’s a guide to help you navigate what questions to ask her to achieve your goal response.

If you want to listen to VPR News...
Try saying, “Alexa, play NPR” or, “Alexa, play VPR.” When you ask Alexa to play NPR, she will find your local member station and stream their live broadcast via TuneIn. Alternatively, asking for VPR will ensure she doesn’t make any mistakes in identifying VPR as your local member station.

If you want to listen to VPR Classical...
Try saying, “Alexa, play WVPS” or “Alexa, play WNCH.” When you ask Alexa to play WVPS or WNCH, she will stream VPR Classical via iHeartRadio.

If you want news highlights from multiple sources...
Try saying, “Alexa, give me my Flash Briefing,” or “Tell me the news.” A Flash Briefing is a buffet of quick news updates from popular broadcasters of your choosing. Using either the Alexa app on your smartphone or the desktop portal, you can edit which news sources are included in your Flash Briefing.

If you would like public radio to be added to your Flash Briefing, you can add the VPR or NPR skill to your list. A skill is to Alexa as an app is to a smartphone. It allows third-party companies and developers to tap into the power of Alexa. The NPR and VPR skills enable your Alexa device to collect the latest news updates from NPR and VPR to add to your Flash Briefing.

VPR is excited about the Echo family’s capability to bring our news and music into homes in a new way.

Do you use an Alexa device, Google Home, Siri or other voice-controlled devices to listen to VPR? Do you have suggestions for how this can be improved? As always, we welcome your feedback.