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BBC releases Reith Lectures online as MP3s

For those of you who don’t know, basically my job at the moment is to be one-half of a rapid-prototyping and R&D unit with Matt Webb over at the part of the BBC that handles the interactive aspects of the BBC’s Radio and Music output. The department makes all the websites for the various Radio Networks as well as interactive TV stuff, stuff for mobile phones and – of course – the Radio Player. It’s a pretty cool place to work and I’m proud of the work that we’ve managed to get done there (more on that in the next few months, hopefully).

So at the moment I’m particularly proud of the work that the department is doing. Basically Radio 4 do a series of programmes each year called The Reith Lectures, in which they get a notable thinker to come in and – over a series of lectures – expound upon a particular scientific, political or social theme. This year Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize-winning poet, is talking about Climate of Fear. Normally – like many BBC radio shows – you can listen to them again via the BBC Radio Player. But this year they’re doing something a bit different and I think pretty significant – they’re releasing all the lectures as DRM-free MP3 files for people to download. There’s more about this over at Dan Hill’s site and Matt Jones has written some commentary on it too (Free as in speech). Hopefully it’s the first open distribution of many programmes of this kind – enlightening, significant and weighty pieces of work that actually have the potential to make the world a better place – available for free from the BBC. Fingers crossed.

21 replies on “BBC releases Reith Lectures online as MP3s”

I am quite happy just to get streaming content from the BBC and am not very interested in being able to download radio programmes permanently.
However, I would like to be able to find “Listen Again” content more easily. Every Radio 4 site that has “Listen Again” programmes seems to use a different interface for delivering their old programmes.
I maintain a list of Radio 4 programmes about desing/Usability/Ethnography etc. and spend a lot of time trying to find the permanent urls for audio streams.
For example: The most recent In Our Time programme (The Fall) has a link to inourtime.ram (which will point to a different prog next week). You can also find the same audio at inourtime_20040408.ram which is the permanent link that I need. With the In Our Time site this archive page will not appear on the site until next week, but as I know how the site works I can generate the URL for the permanent page for this prog (inourtime_20040408.shtml).
A much better example to follow is Thinking Allowed, which always has a link to the “current Week” as well as providing a link to the permament url for the programme. So as each new prog is added the “Current Week” and “Previous Week” links are updated, and the current prog is also added in its own right as a permanent url.
So rather than delivering content in different forms I would rather that you spent some time making it easier to find content that is already there.
If you want to take a look at my list of R4 programmes, search google for “bbc radio 4” and it’s the entry after bbc.co.uk

I think this is an excellent move. Quality content I can take with me – will make those long journeys a whole lot more interesting and productive, hell even holidays will benefit!
It also means I don’t have to be hooked to my PC all the time. A good thing in my opinion.

“available for free from the BBC” – I presume here you’re meaning free as in fiscal, no cost terms rather than free as in DRM-free or free-speech-free, which I’d like to take issue with as we *are* paying for it, but other than this pedantry this is great news! I hope it spreads to the popular show archives soon!
I’d disagree with Chris above by saying that the ability to be able to take an archived show with me anywhere, and also be able to play it even without net connection would be an enormously fantastic thing.
p.s. Tom – any word on the licencing of this material? ie is it published under Creative Commons etc or is it under tamper free copyright? Can we chop it up and use it for stuff?

BBC Releases the 2004 Reith Lectures as DRM-Less MP3’s
[bbc] The Reith Lectures 2004 — the BBC is releasing the 2004 Reith Lectures as DRM-Less MP3 Files. This year’s lecturer is Wole Soyinka discussing “The Climate of Fear”.

Thanks guys; interesting comments all. Keep ’em coming. And Wild, ‘fraid it’s still copyright BBC (as all broadcast material is, unless otherwise noted). Ta, D.

One small step for MP3, one huge leap for the content we pay for.
Tom Coates’ reports that the BBC are releasing the Reith lecutres in MP3 format. Also see LinkMachineGo. This is great. Because broadband shouldn’t equal broadcast. If only they could dispose of the incompatible and crap RealPlayer and go MP3 for every…

I’m a big fan of the BBC’s commitment to online radio archives, which I think of as being second only to wfmu.org (although the programming is very different). I love the Mp3 option, as I normally record streams and the burn them on to CD to listen to it in the car on my drive to work. If all of the shows were downloadable it would save me a lot of time. But my tax dollars are going to the CBC(who needs more archiving!) so I guess I’m getting a free ride as it is.

That’s great! I loathe Real Player. Any plans to offer previous Reith Lectures as MP3s? I’d really like to listen to the “Phantoms in the brain” series. Keep up the great work, sonuds like a fun job.

What is a DRM-free MP3 file? I would just like to be able to read the Reith Lectures again and my first thought was The Listener, Second was the Internet but the jargon is ahead of me. I did not see the times and dates from the BBC and have missed the previous ones. Please explain what I have to do. Thanks,Judith Fairlie.

Got it! Seems like I didn’t actually have to know what the jargon meant to get it – great.

This is very good – real is such low quality I hate it. Please encode patrick moore the sky at night as divX as real player is unwatachable and I want to watch them but the quality is so low. The BBC as a public institution should support open formats and standards – this is clearly in the public interest. The entire BBC archive should be encoded as MP3 and made publicly available. BBC stop thinking like a business and start thinking like a public institution, this is a good first step.

One very simple question? How can one conveniently record the current “listen again” content from the BBC. Like others, I would love to be able to listen to some of these programs on car journeys

With Mp3 players now as cheap as £40, this is a timely move to allow the People Who Pay for the programmes to be made….to listen to them when they want…without *Having to be connected to a computer thats connected to the Internet.
Excellent move…allow me to download all programmes in MP3 🙂

The Digital Generation: Radio’s Friend or Foe?
I attended the event today, organised by the Radio Academy, called ‘The Digital Generation: Radio’s Friend or Foe?’. Held at the Apple Store on London’s Regent’s Street, a bunch of radio industry professionals gathered to discuss whether the iPod (and…

When might we see the Reith lectures on mp3? It would at least be a step in the right direction.
There is so much that could be done by the BBC to push that mission statement over the front door. But things are not being implimented anywhere near fast enough.
It is the year of our Lord 2005 we are still using RAM format that can only be likened to data transmission via little patties of wet clay with Cuniform enscribed thereon. Howabout reconfiguring a little to allow for wifi-phone Podcasts? If we start now it might be ready in time, rather than waiting years then reacting to events rather than planning for them.
If this was France moving in such a slothful manner I would laugh, But it is not, this is the home team & that is a problem. I for one do not wish the UK to become roadkill on the side of the information superhighway.
You want some more staff to come jolly it along some?

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