Future-proofing a great American tradition.

The MPR Smart Speaker

American Public Media’s Live from Here is a celebration and continuation of the legacy of one of America’s most beloved radio traditions, Garrison Keilor’s A Prairie Home Companion. Each Saturday event, acclaimed musician and songwriter Chris Thile welcomes a wide range of well-known and up-and-coming talent to share the stage and create an engaging, eclectic experience for listeners. We worked with the digital team at Minnesota Public Radio — one of NPR's premiere member stations — to create a streaming experience for Alexa-enabled smart speakers that puts the best of Live from Here just a few words away.


  • Product Design
  • Web Services Development
  • Voice Design

Broadcasting, remixed.

While the exploding popularity of podcasts has breathed new life into audio programming, digital distribution isn't necessarily straightforward for a show like Live From Here. With the wide range of big-name and upcoming guest artists appearing each week, securing licenses for every performance in a downloadable format proves a prohibitive challenge. Streaming solves this problem by qualifying legally as a rebroadcast, but can add friction by forcing user to download a new app or tune in via a browser. The Live from Here skill for Alexa offers the best of both worlds: a top-notch digital listening experience that's available anytime, anywhere, and all without reaching for a device.

Radio that listens to you.

Knowing what you said is easy for voice assistants, but knowing what you meant is something else entirely. We leveraged first-party user research to understand what users wanted do with the skill, how they wanted to do it and, crucially, how Alexa might misinterpret their requests. Armed with that insight, we refined both Alexa's script and our backend services to anticipate misunderstandings and command collisions where they might happen and ensure that the experience handles those scenarios gracefully and intuitively.

The art of the possible.

Designing for emerging platforms is always a unique challenge. Because when the technology is new there's often a large gap between what's imaginable, what's technically possible, and what's well-supported at the platform level. Our creative process for the Live from Here skill for Alexa was a true collaboration between design and engineering, starting with a deep dive into Amazon's APIs to gather inspiration and assess viability, followed by greenfield design explorations to cast a vision for the ideal user experience, and culminating in a convergence of the possible and the desirable.

Listener-supported innovation.

In addition to our creative and technical contributions, Livefront and MPR continue to partner closely on forward-looking strategy. Leaning heavily on first-party data and listener feedback, we’re helping to drive, maintain, and execute against an ambitious yet pragmatic product roadmap, which we iterate on continuously based on new findings. And because of the highly collaborative relationship between NPR member stations, our shared ideas, insights, and capabilities have real potential to influence the digital evolution of public radio as a whole.

Livefront was able to understand the issues and create a solution that out-performed any of our previous attempts. The user experience of moving between the Alexa Skill and other native Alexa features was truly seamless and felt as native to the Amazon smart speaker platform as any custom skill I have heard.

Peter Rasmussen

Director of Product Development, American Public Media

Let’s create something remarkable together.

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