BBC Archives makes BBC Radio 5 Live archive available for station’s 20th anniversary

Date: 26.03.2014     Last updated: 18.11.2014 at 14.10
Category: Archive
Following a collaboration between BBC Archives colleagues at MediaCityUK, the Archive Centre in west London and the Salford based station, the 20 year history of BBC Radio 5 Live is available to listen to and download by BBC Staff at their desktops. Senior Media Manager, Jeremy Hinks, explains more.

BBC Radio 5 Live began broadcasting on Monday 28th March 1994 and from day one output was recorded by the station for their own reuse. From 1994 to 2002 recording was actually made to VHS tape (yes, VHS was used to record radio!), 3 tapes per day resulted in a total of 8,000 tapes over 8 years. In 2002, recording switched to CD and this continued until 2007, a total of 4,000 discs. 

From 2008 the station stopped making their own recordings as this was taken up by in-house BBC systems such as ‘AutoRot’ and later the BBC’s Radio Digital Archive, which records all national network radio as uncompressed .wav files. Up to the inception of the Radio Digital Archive, the Archive also made high quality uncompressed recordings of selected BBC Radio 5 Live shows.  

In 2011, BBC Radio 5 Live relocated to Salford and the VHS collection, which had previously been stored in the production offices at Television Centre, was sent to the Archive Centre in Perivale. This gave the opportunity for the Archives to transfer the tapes to .wav files which were stored on a local server. The CDs initially moved to Salford, but during the final months of 2013 these discs were ripped and transferred to .mp3 files by BBC Archives staff. 

The next challenge was to make these files available to the wider BBC. This was achieved by transferring the digitised content from both the VHS and CD collections to a networked server which BBC users can access via an internal web link.

Additional files were also sourced and added up to September 2008, meaning the server contains BBC Radio 5 Live’s output from 28 March 1994 to 30 September 2008. From September 2008 onwards all BBC Radio 5 Live off air output, along with selected unpublished content and more recently BBC 5 Live Sport Extra, is available as part of the Radio Digital Archive.

Consequently, this gives desktop access to the entire 20 year history of the network at the desktop of all BBC staff, and means BBC Radio 5 Live is the only BBC network station to have a digitised broadcast archive that reaches back to its first transmission.  

As the VHS and CDs were for many years held locally by production and not a managed collection, a small number of tapes and CDs were found to be missing. Also some of the older CDs were unplayable, meaning occasional gaps in the server content. The Archive’s Media Manager for BBC Radio 5 Live is identifying any significant gaps and looking to source these from alternative collections where possible.  

Another initiative underway is to investigate how to improve the metadata and searchabilty of this content, for example the potential to convert the audio to text using Speech-to-Text processes and to link in with other sources of BBC Radio 5 Live metadata, making it easier for staff to locate specific clips. 

BBC Copyright image: Picture shows Jane Garvey with Adrian Chiles and Marcus Buckland, the first voices on Radio 5 Live, moments before the first transmission. 1994

Jeremy Hinks is a Senior Media Manager in BBC Archives