Radio.Garden: Radio Research Going Viral

Dr. Caroline Mitchell. Senior lecturer in Radio at the University of Sunderland, UK

February 10th 2017. I’m travelling from Sunderland to London to talk about the HERA funded Transnational Radio Encounters (TRE) Project at a ‘World Radio Day’ event organised by SOAS Radio at the University of London. My presentation consists of a couple of slides and one URL address: www.radio.garden. I am confident that the presentation will go down well because apart from my brother in law (long story...) every single person that I have shown our research outcomes to, from students, colleagues, friends and radio academics all over the world to radio industry professionals, taxi drivers and shopkeepers,  have been incredibly enthusiastic. To date radio.garden has had over 18 million views and every day I’ve found a succession of ecstatic tweets from every continent of the world. How did this happen?

In February 2016 we were entering the last stages of the project.  Like most academics members of our HERA project  (Prof. Golo Föllmer Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany; myself from University of Sunderland and Dr. Peter Lewis from  London Metropolitan University, UK; Assistant Prof. Dr. Jacob Kreutzfeldt at  University of Copenhagen and Associate Prof. Per Jauert Aarhus University in Denmark and Professor Dr. Sonja de Leeuw and Dr. Alec Badenoch from University of Utrecht in the Netherlands) all knew the value of telling the story of our research beyond refereed articles and published reports and books. Our varied interests in the radio medium meant that from an early stage we were excited about what our ‘exhibition’ would look, and importantly sound, like.

Peter Lewis and I had been conducting workshops in Britain, Canada, France and Spain, gathering stories of transnational radio participation by community radio broadcasters, listening to what  ‘transnational  community radio’  sounds like  and looking at the conditions that support transnational radio production, broadcasts and archives. People’s links with homeland and diaspora transcend the boundaries of national identity. In ethnic minority radio stations there were programme made by and for long-standing minority ethnic groups, and increasingly it has become the role of community radio to give voice to more recently arrived communities. We had mused over how to display these connections, their histories and the huge range of community stations that existed world wide. One of our community researchers had constructed a ‘listening table’ (see figure 1) where people could hear interviews about radio’s transnational connections and this included lit up pathways connecting countries and stations. Peter and I had used geo-located digital mapping in previous projects (see for instance http://www.comapp-online.de  and https://connected-communities.org/index.php/project_resources/map-your-bristol/) and alongside our colleagues and our partner, the Netherland’s  National Sound and Vision Institute in Hilversum (https://www.beeldengeluid.nl/en), we briefed the exhibition designers (Studio Puckey in collaboration with Moniker in Amsterdam)  with our ideas.

After pre testing and a ‘soft’ launch at the project’s final conference in Utrecht (http://www.transnationalradio.org/conference) radio.garden went live 13 December 2016.  It’s an amazing online radio platform that allows users to explore an interactive globe filled with radio’s past and present. Four different layers of the interactive globe allow listeners to dive into radio’s border-crossing. Go on- look at it now! (http://radio.garden)

In the Live section you can explore a world of radio as it is happening right now. Tune into any place on the globe to explore over 8,000 stations (hundreds more being added every week) broadcasting live to your desktop or mobile phone. What sounds familiar? What sounds foreign? Where would you like to travel and what sounds like ‘home’?
Jingles  offers a world-wide crash course in station identification. How do stations signal within a fraction of a second what kind of programmes you are likely to hear? How do they project being joyful, trustworthy, or up to the minute?
In the section on History you can tune into clips from throughout radio history that show how radio has tried to cross borders. How have people tried to translate their nations into the airwaves? What did they say to the world? How do they engage in conversation across linguistic and geographical barriers?
In Stories listeners past and present tell how they listen beyond their walls. How do they imagine the voices and sounds from around the globe? How do they use radio to make themselves at home in the world? What are their radio journeys as they cross borders and countries over time?

Following its formal launch, the site received approximately half a million visitors in its first day and by the end of January over 18 million visitors. It has been picked up by newspapers, journalists, news websites and broadcasters all over the world. The site developer has taken on extra staff to keep up with adding stations. I’ve been monitoring the thousands of tweets at #radio.garden that still come in on an hourly basis from every continent of the world. This is where it gets exciting in terms of the impact of the research.  The tweets have been entirely and overwhelmingly enthusiastic-heralding radio.garden  as new way of listening to radio, a new way of stations attracting new listeners across the globe, a way of exploring music, languages and radio programmes.

Twitter Feedback on the Radio.Garden

"Google Earth meets radio’"
”Ultimate technology. Foreign feels like home. Everyone must check it”
“Radio Garden is the greatest invention of the 21st Century”
“This is an amazing site that will change the way you listen to the world!”
"Your local radio, anywhere in the world! How cool!..."
"For language learners or music lovers"
"Where do you want to go? A wonderful antidote to these woefully myopic times".
"Want to become a #globalcitizen? Explore live radio by rotating the globe"
"Ultimate technology. Foreign feels like home. Everyone must check it."

From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders..." Dig Radio Garden, friends. Spin the globe

 

Radio.garden is designed to be a growing platform – the ‘seeds’ that have been planted here are the first inspiration to filling the globe further. When I have used it with students at my university in Sunderland I have found that it has engaged them in transnational radio studies in a way that no other radio device/platform or radio teaching resource has done in the past. They are keen to become radio gardeners and are suggesting new archive materials and stations to be added.

As for the TRE academic team, although our funded research has finished, we are meeting next month in Amsterdam with National Sound and Vision Institute and Studio Puckey to work out the next steps for radio.garden and we are seeking funds to protect and develop this wonderful resource further.

And now I will go back to some late night surfing on the global airwaves –as I write this I am listening to a phone-in about Day 25 of Donald Trump’s presidency from WBAI in New York City and maybe before  bed I’ll listen to some jazz from a great little station I’ve found in Japan or...
 

If you have a story to share please contact Alec Badenoch at a.w.badenoch@uu.nl.
If you have a station to add you can do this via a form in the ‘Information’ section of radio.garden