Reinventing Radio

Enriching Broadcast with Social Software

ETech 2005
40 minutes, 18.7mb, recorded 2005-03-15
Biddulph, Coates, Webb and Hammond
Isn't radio an old, dying medium? What's it doing in a conference on emerging technologies? Matt Biddulph, Paul Hammond, Tom Coates, and Matt Webb show us how radio is a reemerging technology experiencing a resurgence in popularity and relevance. They explore how radio can be improved by introducing feedback mechanisms and by ultimately making it a more social medium. Using principles of social software, the BBC becomes more of a peer than a broadcaster.

In the first part of the presentation Matt Biddulph and Paul Hammond explain BBC Radio's experiment with a format called the "Ten-Hour Takeover" in which control of the station's playlist is given over to the listeners. How can DJs be empowered with direct access to an audience of millions? With an audience that huge, how can feedback on the order of hundreds of thousands of SMS messages be handled in a meaninful way by a DJ? There isn't enough human bandwith available to deal with that level of engagement. Traditional models would be forced to either 'smoosh' out the input into an average or to select a few random individuals to represent the audience. But this isn't good enough for Matt Biddulph and Paul Hammond, who show us how they integrate SMS technology with some statistical techniques to create an 'information space' standing between the public and the DJ.

So you've got a broadcast network and you've got a web presence, each with very different models of interaction. How can these two models coexist in a useful and meaningful way? In the second part of the presentation Tom Coates and Matt Webb show us how radio can be enhanced using techniques from social software like flickr and to create a hybrid of the broadcast and network models. They wonder why we treat network computers as dumb receivers for broadcast content when they could be much more social and allow for interaction with both broadcasters and other listeners. 'Phonetags' bring folksonomies to radio, allowing listeners to tag songs with a cellphone as they listen. They also explore how techniques as simple as group listening can add to the social experience of radio.

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Matt Biddulph is the leader of the software architecture team at BBC Radio and Music Interactive. He's headed up the technical side of a number of BBC projects including: SMS and the Radio One Ten Hour Takeover, MMS on the BBC website, and Radio 3's online presence. He's been involved in some way with The Daily Chump and its chump bot, Planet RDF, Make A Shorter Link,, Ananova, Index to Theses, and picdiary. He maintain a personal blog at

Paul Hammond is a Technical Project Manager for the Technology and Design team of BBC Radio and Music Interactive. His personal site can be found at

Tom Coates runs a small R&D team at BBC Radio and Music Interactive. He's interested in social software, online communities, collaborative media, the coming trends towards mass amateurisation and democratisation, media distribution and network-enabled appliances. In the past he's worked with developing a geo-coded online community called UpMyStreet Conversations Additionally he's been a part of emap, Time Out, contributed film reviews to the BBC's films site and written for The Guardian. His award winning award winning weblog can be found at, and he maintains an online community at

Matt Webb is an engineer and designer working in R&D in BBC Radio & Music Interactive. He has worked on UK e-government projects with the location-based information publisher, created a collaborative semantic network (Dirk - currently offline), developed a range of IM bots (including Googlematic), and co-authored a paper on online geographic communities for O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference 2003. He launched a project to find the Web's favorite color that was featured on BBC News Online and national newspapers in the UK. He's a contributor at and a coauthor of the book 'Mind Hacks'. He maintains a forward-thinking technology and culture weblog at


This presentation is one of a series from the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference held in San Diego, California, March 14-17, 2005.

For Team ITC:

  • Description editor: Jonathan Flynn
  • Post-production audio engineer: Malachi Burke
  • Series Producer: Cori Schlegel

This free podcast is from our Emerging Technology Conference series.