BBC Genome Project
Alistair Wyper

In the course of using Genome to compile lists of BBC Third Programme drama for Diversity I have spent some time searching within it. A fascinating by product is reminding myself what a rich treasure trove of radio there is in the BBC archives. Unfortunately one has to remember the large caveat that the BBC did not preserve most of it for future listeners and researchers. According to the Genome site the BBC possesses 30%, or more than a million hours, of broadcast material. The BBC itself hopes Genome will lead to the discovery of material in private collections which was believed to be lost.

Some facts and background first. BBC Genome was released for public use on 15 October 2014 and was created by scanning past issues of the Radio Times. It covers the period 1923 to 2009. One can search by programme title or the name of a contributor to a programme or by year, date and/or issue of the Radio Times. Searches can be filtered by specifying which television or radio station to include or exclude. It is then possible to choose the order the subsequent search results are listed: by relevance, newest first or oldest first.

I admit that my search techniques are unsophisticated and rather a trial and error method. In the FAQS section there is advice on searching. Unlike the current BBC websites I have not found a way of searching by category, this would be useful when compiling a list of drama, for example. I have discovered that sometimes exact or nearly exact matches for programme titles will produce a large number of results because each word in a given search is a key word. The commoner the word or name in a search field the more results are found. On the other hand if one is too precise or narrow in selecting one’s search words, sometimes no results are found. As I have noted I have developed a trial and error technique, trying to be neither too specific nor too general in my searches. For example a search for “Dick Francis” produces 1,144 results with, if ordered by relevance, the default order, shows all instances of both “Dick” and “Francis” and then lower down the results list appearances of these words on their own. Here is the URL for that search:


It is useful that a search can be expressed as a URL. Of course one can also browse, for example, year by year, or by issue if one does not have a specific programme or type of programme to target.

Genome allows editing by users and has a function called “Tell Us More” which permits additional details to be provided or corrections to be made by the users. Since the data is from issues of Radio Times late changes or cancellations are not shown. There are quite a number of spelling errors partly due to the scanning process and especially with foreign words including accented letters. As of 16/05/2015, 83,542 user generated edits have been accepted. Given the size of the project (350,622 Radio Times pages scanned) it is not surprising there are gaps in the listings; occasionally for a day or a series of consecutive days there are no programmes to show. The Genome site explains further that there were eleven weeks between 1926 and 1983 when the Radio Times was not published.

The BBC hopes next to cross reference Genome with its other records.

Reproduced by permission of Alistair Wyper.

© Alistair, Diversity Website, May 2015.

Note from ND:
Something you may find useful - the "Advanced" function allows a search to be made of radio (or TV) output only.


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