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Fans, universities and Little Chris Moyles

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Tristan Ferne | 11:47 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2008

This Monday we're being visited by Tim Wall and Andrew Dubber from Birmingham City University. I'm working with them on this project...

Listener online engagement with BBC radio programming

A knowledge exchange and collaborative research and development project to study how BBC radio programme listeners use the internet to interact around programmes, extend their experience and create new media products based on the original programming. The investigators will work with BBC Audio & Music Interactive to explore the creative fan culture that has been built around the BBC's radio music, fiction and speech programming through a range of fan-controlled, commercial and BBC intern media of communication.

Phew! Basically we'll be studying fans of BBC radio, their perceptions, behaviours and activities.

I was originally inspired to start the project having read Henry Jenkin's book - Convergence Culture - on fans, media and telling stories across multiple channels. It's really good - go and read it. But also by all the fan sites for BBC radio that already exist out there, things like Archers fan fiction, the incredibly comprehensive Unofficial Mills, The Little Chris Moyles video, Gardeners Question Time on Flickr (actually, I've no idea if this is just a naming coincidence, but it's a great idea anyway) or the Sarah Kennedy Facebook group. As far as we know very little work has been done on radio fandom, with the majority of academic work concentrating on TV, film and sports.

The rest of the project team consists of Bethany Klein, also of Birmingham, Matt Hills from Cardiff University and Lyn Thomas from London Metropolitan University. Each of them will be working on an individual project, yet they are all related and will hopefully form a coherent set of findings at the end.

  • The Archers - where is it discussed online and in what kind of spaces? What kinds of discussion and creativity take place? Have Archers fans gained new skills online? London Metropolitan
  • Celebrity DJs - looking at the fan cultures around Terry Wogan and Chris Moyles, particularly how to build closer relationships with radio audiences and fandom as a career path. Cardiff
  • Fans of specialist music (probably jazz) - what fan activies and forums exist on the internet? Why are they there and not on the BBC? What can the BBC do to better support these communities? Birmingham City University
  • A history of interactive engagement in radio - what is the relationship for listeners between older and newer interactive technologies? Radio has always had phone-ins but are the same users who used to call in still present on email or the messageboards? Birmingham City University
  • Finally, how does the BBC perceive the audience and how does the audience perceive BBC radio personalities and programme teams. It sounds like there's going to be a bit of workplace ethnography here. Birmingham City University

The project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC Future Media & Technology as part of a knowledge exchange programme. The aim is to transfer knowledge and learning between universities and the BBC. So the universities will get access to BBC staff, material and content and the BBC will get insight and new thinking from the universities.

What we hope to get out of this is a greater understanding of radio fan cultures. What is compelling about fan activities, how the BBC can facilitate these activities and serve these fans and, ultimately, how to improve our sites and services for fans. But also to extend this to benefit other audiences, either by using aspects of fan sites or by encouraging fan-like behaviour in those who wouldn't usually describe themselves as fans.

The whole arts and humanities research thing is all new to me, having a science background, so personally it's quite a learning experience. And it's also a bit different from our usual prototyping because of the time-scales. The project has taken around 6 months to set up, and is now a couple of months into a year long project and I'll be posting updates on the project as we go.

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