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BBC Radio Explorer: what we've learned

Jason Williams

Senior Web Developer, BBC Radio & Music

Hello! I'm a senior web developer within BBC Digital’s Radio team.

Almost a year ago we put Radio Explorer live, a project that was born from one of our learning and innovation days, a 10% time initiative.

What does Radio Explorer do?

It’s not always easy to find radio content across the BBC, especially based on topics you like or interests you have. For instance: I may not be aware of the show name, or presenters on air but at the same time be interested in what I’ve just heard (producers would call me a “light listener”). Perhaps an interview with Lewis Hamilton on Radio 1 had sparked some interest and a listener would like to hear more interviews with him.

So we created an online application which searches not just programmes titles, but subtitles, short synopsis, long synopsis, descriptions, basically anything we can get our hands on! We then made sure any results coming back were available to play, this predominantly included clips (because they don’t expire) and programmes that can currently be played.

Radio Explorer offers you a stream of available content, giving you your own mini radio station of episodes, clips and podcasts which are related to your search term. It’s continuous so you can just leave it to play.

Below is a demo of what Radio Explorer looks like.

(Almost) One year on

Fast forward 8 months and Radio Explorer is on BBC Taster.

When checking feedback most requests were for adding stations such as BBC World Service and Local Radio. So we did exactly this. Radio Explorer now searches through all 57 Radio Stations, giving listeners local content as well as the World Service and music-based interviews from Radio 1 and 6 Music.

Since landing on Taster I was keen to find out what people have been listening to and how long they’ve been listening for.

We have recorded listening times from the past 3 months, i.e measuring how long people listen for and on what brands; these are the results.

On average Radio Explorer will almost always give back more results, whereas the radio home page search is currently trying to solve a different problem, namely to get you to the right piece of content. However, entering a category such as ‘comedy‘ will yield far more results (62) than radio explorer’s max which is 30. Seeing that BBC iPlayer Radio’s current search only checks programme titles, specific searches like “Katy Perry”, or “David Bowie” don’t perform too well.

As we move forward and continue to improve BBC iPlayer Radio, I hope we can improve search results across BBC iPlayer Radio and offer audiences a continuous stream to listen to which will include clips & podcasts from across the BBC.

I look forward to your comments and feedback.

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