Digitisation of the Radio Times

The BBC has finished digitising the programme listings from 4,500 old copies of the 'Radio Times' magazine, covering the period of the first issue in 1923 through to 2009.

Entitled the Genome project, the BBC has said that each it its programmes are like "tiny pieces of BBC DNA" that will form a "data spine" once reassembled.

Ref: AWNS-19420513-20-4, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The aim of the project was to help the BBC identify shows missing from its archive. Most early output was not recorded and many later tapes were destroyed or recycled. After 2009, records generated by the iPlayer catch-up service have been used to record show listings.

The digitised content will be available on an online database, which will give the public access, where possible, to old broadcasts, photos, scripts and other materials for missing shows. The hope is that the public will come forward with copies of missing programmes. "Clearly not all the material will exist out there anyway just because lots of the programmes in the early days weren't even recorded - they were just broadcast live ... Part of it is to recover some of the lost programmes but it's really about having a comprehensive history of the BBC and its schedules" said project manager Helen Papadopoulos.

Ref: AWNS-19020619-6-5, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Some of the digitisation process was outsourced to a French team. Optical character recognition (OCR) software was used to extract the information along with a specially designed software, which was used to make sense of the wide variety of layouts in the Radio Times.

The database will be initially restricted to BBC staff, but will hopefully be publicly available by the end of 2013. Eventually the BBC archive content may be available via an online shop.