Bournemouth University

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Don’t lose UK’s remarkable radio heritage

16 December 2011

(L-R) BBC’s Simon Rook, Chair Tony Stoller and the British Library's Paul Wilson

Policy-driven committee to secure the future for radio archives.

A formal advisory committee, driven by the need for proper preservation and management of UK radio archives, has sprung out of a Bournemouth University (BU) event held at the British Library yesterday.

Representatives from the BBC, BU, Ofcom, the Library's Sound and Vision department and other organisations made the collaborative decision after thrashing out the problems, obstacles and implications the lack of formal policy has on the academic community and wider public.

BU's Associate Professor of Broadcasting History, Dr Hugh Chignell, orchestrated the event in response to the repeated 'brick wall of non-access' faced by many researchers hoping to use material in their work. "We have a truly remarkable radio heritage," he said. "No aspect of life in Britain hasn't been recorded in some way. The potential to digitise huge collections puts us on the cusp of something dramatic."

The debate was fuelled by new research findings, presented by Kristin Skoog (BU) and Ieuan Franklin (University of Portsmouth), showing broadcast materials’ importance as a primary education source. The lack of awareness among researchers about what material is available and where was highlighted, along with archivist's cataloguing and management difficulties.

These problems were echoed by the British Library who, despite Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications Frances Brindle's concern over the 'waste of creative content that's lost post-transmission', face practical obstacles in the form of copyright and cooperation from the companies owning rights to the material. This is the main factor inhibiting online access.

Curator for radio at the British Library, Paul Wilson described their plans to move away from selected archiving based on content, to creating records more representative of radio today. These would include community, commercial, specialist radio and other elements that make up this rich and varied industry.

The BBC’s project to digitize all editions of the Radio Times was more evidence that companies are moving in the right direction. The organisation’s multimedia archivist Simon Rooks explained this could potentially become a spine on which to hang collections of archived broadcasts.

It was, however, clear that there’s no easy answer to the archiving problem in the UK. But pockets of excellence exhibited by the Danish archive project, LARM and the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) give a clear direction to strive towards. And delegates’ collaborative decision to join forces in a formal committee is proof they’ll be lobbying for change.

The summit was chaired by former Chief Executive of the Radio Authority Tony Stoller and a detailed record of the topics discussed can be found on Twitter via #ukradioarchivesummit.

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