A day in the life of BBC Radio/Music and Twitter

Screenshot of Tweet by Bethany Vaughan

Screenshot of Tweet by Befnee/Bethany Vaughan.

(I was going to actually do this as a presentation but because of the weather. I ended up doing it as a (very long) blog post instead. Bear with me.)

So I’ve been playing with various formats to try and represent and reflect, from what is already out there how users respond when they listen in real time to Radio. Now there are of course, for the BBC’s output at least, regular mainstream print reviews which serve to highlight interest in programmes in the past. Yet, as with Television,  print media (broadsheets, the political weeklies, the sundays) now focuses primarily on fairly anodyne previews of programmes in the future and considered reviews are are now in retreat, from what was a fairly low base to start with. The handful of reviewers, now left, pretty much work on a weekly 7 day review cycle with one or two honourable exceptions. So this means that, podcasts aside, by the time they’ve generated interest in something;  you’ve probably only hours left before that iPlayer 7 day window closes. In a speech in November 2007 to the Radio Academy, the Controller of Radio 4; Mark Damazer chose to highlight how speech radio struggles to attract attention.

Compared with television, Mr Damazer said, “Serious radio simply gets too little coverage.” He added that serious newspapers had failed to cover Radio 4’s output – exemplified by the Sunday Telegraph’s decision under its former editor, Patience Wheatcroft, to abandon its weekly radio column. However, he admitted that Radio 4 needed to up its game in terms of marketing its programming.”Or perhaps we are too shy,” Mr Damazer added. “I have, on occasion been amazed by what we’re able to do, only to find that I had not known about a particular jewel in advance and thus was unable to even organise trails to alert the audience.” He gave as examples a two-hour Classic Serial adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls featuring Michael Palin, and an afternoon play staring Helen Mirren, broadcast after her Oscar success with The Queen.”We’re trying to do better and I challenge the serious newspapers to do likewise,” Mr Damazer said.

Unfortunately its unlikely that we’ll ever again be able to rely on the press to market some of the “jewels” that Mark Damazer talks about here hidden in amdist the wealth of BBC Radio output. So what are the ways we could try online to increase discovery of the rest ? Now thanks to the pioneering work at the BBC of  the likes of Dan Hill (who pretty much wrote the book on this in his blog post Ripples and the Social Life of a Broadcast in 2004) , Gavin Bell and Tom Coates nearly five years ago, then we do  have the right infrastructure in place that starts to build products that make this possible. On demand BBC radio of course thanks to podcasts, universal broadband and BBC iPlayer, but also in the last few years the permanent link to our programmes that enable referencing of discussion around an object. And now that we have  a mobile real time web combined with services such as Twitter going mainstream. then i thought it would be interesting to see how to construct some sort of sense out of that blizzard of short messages, shared links, and announcements.

My lovely colleague Tristan Ferne also sparked me off with thoughts about how to use hash tags and encouraged his twitter followers to start using #radio4, #radio2 and so on.

So having just read this I thought I’d take a fairly random day. Saturday January 31st and track and curate tweets about BBC Radio adding in extra info such opportunties to listen to the shows referenced. I’ve also annotated various sections with extra information about,  for example other BBC announcement twitter bots or other BBC presenters using Twitter.

Things i was mulling over. Could or should this be done after the event around, lets say,  Radio 4 ? (see this one I prepared earlier for Radio 4 on Saturday November 22nd).  Does picking out tweets like this work better in real time  like for example the techniques that BBC News now use regularly for major events such as Obama’s inauguration where they take tweets, blog posts and emails and weave them into real time updates. (inspired obviously by the Guardian’s original live text for football matches.). Probably both I’d say…

Anyway its time to begin. So lets start at appropriately enough, just after midnight.

  • 12.07am DJ Semtex/Semtex “Got a lot of Canadian love on the Kardi interview tonight.”

This has been  a quieter Friday/Saturday night for DJ Semtex (He has a couple of shows a week for 1xtra ) who as The Guardian reports in the morning had a difficult experience the previous weekend with a DC MC called Wale who had been posting negative tweets live whilst Sem was in the middle of a show.

“It probably isn’t a good idea for an artist to post tweets like that while they’re being interviewed – but there’s no beef and I will continue to support Wale,” says Sem, who adds that he’s a firm fan of this method of social networking. “The experience is far more intimate,” he points out. “You can follow the instant thoughts of your favourite artist, which is brilliant, as long as they remember that several thousand people are watching 24/7.

  • 1.01am Radio 3 Text Live / bbcradio3live “Through the Night – Radio 3’s night-time service broadcasting Classical Music throughout Europe.”
  • 5.20am Charlotte Green Bot/ CharBotGreen“Starting now on Radio 4: Shipping Forecast #pid:b00h3h4k http://www.bbc.co.uk/progra…
  • 6.00am Shipping Forecast bot / ShippingCast  “FrIlse, Froes Sly or SEly, bec. cyclnc in Froes l8r, 6 2 gale 8, occ sev gale 9. V.ruff or hi. Rain or sqly shwrs. Mod or pr”

Tweeting away overnight are many unofficial and several (mostly R&D) radio related announcment bots.  Radio 3 Live Text  and now Radio4Live port the text/data more commonly seen via DAB or Freeview and both recently cranked into action thanks to @njh. The relatively new CharBotGreen (geddit ?) was  developed by @libbymiller using the feeds supplied in programmes/developers/.  (Libby has just posted a detailed tech explanation here of how it was done) Its brother bot, perhaps, is Shipping Cast. This feed, using Met Office data, is a lovely thing that similarly turned up a few weeks back and @timd explains on his blog how it was put together.

One of the first I made was @shippingcast, which takes the UK Shipping Forecast and squirts it out onto the web in a Twitter stream.Unless you’re British, the Shipping Forecast probably doesn’t mean a lot. It’s one of those curiously English anachronisms – four times a day, the BBC broadcasts weather forecasts for offshore shipping areas [RealAudio link] on Radio 4 (the BBC’s main “highbrow” speech station). The waters around the British Isles are divided into areas, and the whole thing follows a strangely poetic format. There’s an entire generation of Brits who have never left dry land, but can recite “Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth” as if they know what it means.

Tim Duckett: twittering the shipping forecast

But back with real people:

  • 8.39am r4today / Today/R4 team “Listen to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales discusses the more controversial entries of the online encyclopedia. http://is.gd/hTkP

R4Today is one of several BBC related team accounts including the 4th floor (Radio 1),and BBC 5 Live, tweeting from studios or offices and giving an insight into putting a radio network on air. (My non BBC favourite if you want a flavour for this behind the scenes/overheard stuff is the excellent Channel4News)

And talking of the Shipping Forecast another recent Twitter convert is Radio 4 announcer Zeb Soanes but unfortunately for my rather contrived day in the life his first tweet of the day isn’t for another 11 hours. (shopping).  Damn. So I’ll have to seek out a smattering of other twitterers who at , 8am are starting to wake up or start to plan their day. (with Radio in the background).

  • 8.40am John Markham  /JFMarkhamListening to Kermode’s 5 Live film reviews, while daughter watches Postman Pat! | Mark Kermode
  • 8.42am Mark Brown/THXII38 “made a caffitieree of coffee, put radio 4 on, trying to wake up.”
  • 9.04am tommyogdenSaturday morning in Turnpike Lane, Radio 4 and tea. We played board games til 04.00, eek. Empty Set practise now, before heading to town.”
  • Early Morning Official Coldplay Twitter / Coldplayon my way to pick up chris to go into radio 2. chris is playing a couple of tracks for Jonathan Ross. will give update when we arrive. p”
  • 9.06am Jon Holmes /jonholmes1Off to radio 4’s loose ends to interview a man about his book even tho’ I haven’t read his book. Wonder if there’s a Brodie’s Notes?” | Loose Ends

Of course the last two tweets are from people getting ready to head towards Broadcasting House in central London. More on @wossy in a bit but comedian and radio presenter; Jon Holmes has a busy day ahead. He’s recording Loose Ends at lunchtime (its broadcast later in the day) and then his live show on Six Music this afternoon. at 2pm. Needless to say he had a few Tweets offering him help and he finished the book in question on the train. (The interviewee was in fact; Brian Viner about his v.fine book on seventies sporting TV.)

  • 9.38am David Stansfield /David_E14Going to the Maldives soon and just heard a programme on Radio 4 describing fleas that lay eggs in your foot. In the Maldives. Typical :-\” | Probably Saturday Live
  • 10.23am Cressboy /Dave Spellman  “Radio 4 discussing photographs of Pendle Hill and they are using one of mine on the Excess Baggage web site without crediting me! buggers” ( Its now been credited  at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/excessbaggage/ )
  • 11.24am Clarer / “listening to Wossy on Radio 2 – great to have him back”
  • 11.28am Jonathan Ross/ WossyAm doing radio show with alan carr. We are just about to talk about twitter” | Jonathan Ross

We’re now half way through Jonathan Ross’ show on Radio 2 and although there are plenty of tweets from listeners in anticipation;  Wossy’s just tweeted for the first time today. In true “meta” style. Its about twitter of course and his impending chat with, according to the papers, future R2 presenter Alan Carr. Carr  has 10,000 followers on Twitter yet follows nobody. Unlike Ross who follows and @replies like there’s no tomorrow. He’s due to tweet a further 100 times this weekend most of them replies to listeners or viewers of his weekend programmes. Wossy’s brief mention of their twitter chat is then re-tweeted dozens of times and there is a constant stream of other listeners tweeting quotes and incidents from the show. The steady volume of these also means that services that track the most popular keywords used on the service in real time like search.twitter.com or twitscoop.com start to show up first   “Wossy” and then “Radio 2”. in their top ten lists or tag clouds. UK terms rarely show up there, but BBC radio related terms will stay there for the rest of the day.

  • 11.58am Daniel Bennett/ Dan_10v11One for @darrenwaters. Twitter’s just got a mention on Radio Five’s Fighting Talk in ‘any other business’.” | Fighting Talk
  • Late Morning NatNav /Tristan Gooley “Just emerged from a chat with John McCarthy on Excess Baggage, Radio 4. Very nice man.” | Excess Baggage
  • 12.13pm RobbieFowlerfan “Listening to Danny Wallace on 6 music, he’s played Beirut, The Strokes, and I’m sure this is a Patti Smith song, he’s won me over music-wise” | Danny Wallace
  • 1.53pm BellaGrrlMixing ingredients for chocolate chocolate chip and mixed nuts biscuits and listening to Any Questions on Radio 4 ~”

Jonathan Ross’ show is now over but he’s still tweeting and he’s posted a picture of Chris Martin from inside the Radio 2 studio to his Wossy twitpic account. But now the focus shifts to Radio 1. Asian Network DJ; Nihal who also has a weekend show on Radio 1 has just started his show.

His producer;Chris Cox is a recent Twitter convert and they are trying out using it alongside their usual interaction with listeners via text and email.

  • 12.56pm Nihal A/ TherealNihal “Not long till the show, tag any messages with #nihal if you want to interact, myself and Producer Chris @bigcox will be tweeting on air.”
  • 12.58pm Chris Cox /bigcoxhello from the studio. Today’s question for the first bit of the show is “The best bargain I’ve ever got was” remember your name & #nihal”
  • 1.19pm Jonathan Ross/wossy “Chris martin on radio 2 ! http://twitpic.com/19k91
  • 1.23pm Chris Cox /some great responses guys… keep them coming and tell your fellow tweeters #nihal”
  • 1.32pm Stephanie Hallsworth DarkAngelMJH#nihal I would buy another horse and a house with lotza land for them!plus sports car lol.steph from Manchester”
  • 1.40pm Chris Cox / bigcoxtwitter mention coming up guys #nihal”

And now, in admidst the dozens of retweets for Chris Martin’s picture and plugs for that song about Jonathan (the one that mentioned Fawlty Towers) that encouragement by Producer Chris and Nihal over on Radio 1 in soliciting live feedback and queries via Twitter and crucially quite a few reminders to use the hash tag #nihal meant that in amidst superbowl, iphone and davos is weekend Radio 1 DJ Nihal. Who’d have thought it ? Or more likely it shows that for these trending stats then you need fairly low volumes (about 100 tweets in quick succession tagged correctly pretty much).

And then briefly (see above) Nihal was the #1 trending word across Twitter. Some gaming going on there obviously and I’ve no idea how robust Twitscoop is but clearly a small visual illustration of the power of radio to engage listeners online.  (in this case er, collectively upstaging the word Pee ?. No I don’t know either.)  For more examples of how the BBC are experimenting with visual representation of users texts/interaction in real time then see the series of blog posts about the BBC’s recent visual radio trial.

The challenge there is of course how do you capture what can be thousands of texts and emails being received in real time when producing a two hour radio show. The fascinating thing about Twitter is of course the permanence. The links are still there years later so piecing together January 31 2009 through BBC radio tweets is entirely possible. Not sure if its advisable but it is possible. Put that together with most of the listening being on demand and you could, for example with podcasts, simulate online that social listening that downloads have obviously fragmented.

And so Saturday goes on. In a parallel Radio 1 universe; early morning DJ Greg James is also logged into Twitter, replying to listeners and enthusing about his recent appearance on Pick of the Week.

  • 2.35pm GregJames replies to a dozen tweets including @heathandy hello mate – nice of you to stop by…Getting the hang of this twitter business!
  • 2.42pm @FrazJ i think i might do a live twitter from the surgery”
  • 2.44pm  GregJames “@jmlares career highlight. So many of my parents friends heard that.Old people love a bit of Pick of the Week!”
  • 3.07pm Chris Cox/bigcoxhttp://twitpic.com/1a606 – Nihal singing mid link to songsmith stuff on air”
  • 3.12pm Richard Tunstall / rtunstall “Another rehearsal completed! This time for our final appearance on Radio 3 ‘The Choir’ Live special programme at 6.30 on Sunday”
  • 3.13pm Natcast  “Sir David Attenborough on BBC Simon Mayo Podcast: www.bbc.co.uk/radio/podcast… CAUTION: Creationists may find the content offensive.”

And as the sun sets in case you’re thinking that this is all Radio 1/2 flavoured, there are also a steady number of tweets through the afternoon talking plays, opera and speech.

As i start to run out of steam so naturally do tweets. Radio audience falls sharply in the evenings anyway and tweets start to slow. Even the brilliant live event of the night; Elbow live on Radio 2 is now not a one off occasion and has been available to view via Red Button and online over the past week. There has naturally been more discussion about this on twitter post the actual “live” event. And then it ends.

  • 11.55pm Stephen Mills/Stephen MillsyJust watched Elbow on the BBC radio 2 session, brilliant !!!”

Screenshot of Tweet by Ickledot

Screenshot of Tweet by Ickledot.

(and goodnight from him. Yet more on twitter and radio broadcasters to come. I bet you can’t wait.)


4 responses to “A day in the life of BBC Radio/Music and Twitter

  1. Actually I can’t- that was brilliant. Did you get to look at the UGC ethnography study for Radio 5 live last year? Similar but different research, but we should definately keep this sort of research rolling.

  2. great post showing the power of twitter in the real world. Its a real shame you cant filter twitterscoop by location i.e – lets see what everyone in the UK is tweeting about.

    I’m not sure how much twitter has caught on in the german media world, I think its only a matter of time really.

  3. Pingback: Charlie Beckett, POLIS Director » Blog Archive » Beeb Camp III: Twitter is only 1% but it’s massive (and Gaming matters, too)

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