An Archive for the Future

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The Science Explorer from BBC Radio 4

The Radio Festival which was held this week in Salford is the annual event where the Radio Industry gathers both to celebrate what we do and to look at where the Radio world is heading. In his keynote speech the BBC Director General Mark Thompson explained our plans to make a huge archive of speech radio available as part of our online Radio product.

The scale of the task is almost infinite. Our ambition is similarly big. Users should be able to find the highest quality BBC audio on any subject or about any person or place in which they are interested. They may go there out of commitment to a particular programme they know and love or they may find the audio via a search engine or another part of the BBC Website and be introduced to the riches of BBC Radio that they may never have encountered before. So my job along with others is to set some priorities and keep the ball rolling.

There is more to this than digging out a number of rather dusty old programmes and add an archive nostalgia corner to our website. As my former colleague Sue MacGregor reminds us in the Daily Telegraph today there are some gems that we must try to surface. However to focus only on these is to miss a bigger opportunity. The archive of speech radio must be of wide contemporary interest and will be at the very heart of our online offer. We must also ensure relevant programmes and extracts can be found easily by existing and new radio audiences.

We have already started the work. Over 20 hours of each week's Radio 4 output is added to the archive. We are also going back from the current schedule to build collections of the most relevant, useful, educational speech radio content that will supplement our current programming or agenda. Listeners inspired by Jim Al-Khalili's Life Scientific on Tuesday mornings can explore many more of the themes by listening to hundreds of archive programmes gathered in Radio 4's Science Explorer. Later this year a further 500 editions of Desert Island Discs going back to 1987 will be available as streams or downloads.

Radio 3's archive enables us to build a comprehensive audio guide to the world of classical music. We began with the Proms this summer where concert information was linked to relevant editions of Composer of the Week or Discovering Music. The site attracted record numbers of users. Look out for more of the same in the Symphony project which has started this week.

Radio 4's programme brands remain a significant point of entry to our sites and our content for many users. They are still a rich seam for us to mine. For example, we have presented archive items from Woman's Hour since the very beginning of the Radio 4 website. We know there is huge potential in that programmes' archive of encounters with a vast number of the great women of the last 60 years.

Archive underpins much of the wider BBC's online ambition so the radio archive will also be reached by journeys across the whole of BBC online. The content will also be a key element of future public service partnerships. All this will make radio bigger and more relevant than ever in the digital world. Making that archive portable via downloads that can be consumed on all devices is an essential requirement.

We know we are onto something exciting here from the way our archives are appreciated now. On air Radio 4 Extra has more listeners than any other BBC Digital only network and online there are more than 2 million requests every month for audio on demand. That is the second highest amount after Radio 4 itself. Only a month has past since we made the entire In Our Time archive available as downloads or podcasts and over 1 million editions have been downloaded. There have been over 5 million downloads of editions of Desert Island Discs since we launched the archive 5 months ago. The Reith Lecture Archive which goes back to 1948 has had almost a million downloads. There is lots more detail to come and I will keep you up to date on our progress here and on the BBC Radio 4 blog.

Andrew Caspari is Head of Speech Radio and Classical Music, Interactive

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