The BBC national radio websites produce some of the world’s best radio station websites. They’re generally well-designed, with up to date content and interesting applications that support the creative of the radio programmes. Actually, I think that last one is a key point that many radio station websites fall down all. Radio sites often get caught up in trying to replicate the essence of what the webteam thing the radio station is, rather than reflecting the creative content the radio stations produce.
The root of this is that often the webteams aren’t radio people and even more often, nowadays, not even based with the radio stations. This usually results in a somewhat drift of strategy with the webteam going in one direction and the radio team trying to do something else on-air.
However, whilst the national stations do a brilliant job, they’re let down somewhat by the websites for the BBC Local Radio stations. I was just listening to the interesting combination of Bam Bam and Nik Goodman on BBC London 94.9 and so hopped over to their website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/london. Firstly it takes a little while to find that the route into the radio station is through a simple text link on the right, once through there’s a bit of disorientation as nothing’s where you think it should be. I think most users are used to a certain type of web grammar for different sites – this is usually driven by left hand nav and some key options – so for a radio station this is things like Schedule, Presenters, Music, Listen etc. BBC London’s site eschews them all by combining quite a random selection of links in four central boxes. Indeed the left-hand nav includes pretty much nothing related to the radio station.
Also what’s odd is using the main splash on the site to plug quite a minor part of the station, in the case Vanessa Feltz’s daytime show. It’s odd because firstly it’s the mid-morning show and secondly it’s the podcast part of it. Is that really the most important part of the radio station?
There’s a useful square on the right that shows who’s on air at the moment. Unfortunately it’s incorrect as it’s showing Danny Baker rather than Bam and Nik. Clicking through to Danny’s pages, and there’s still no mention of Bam and Nik, but i’m still drawn to the other links for Danny’s show. There’s six of them:
* Listen: Danny Baker
* Danny’s guest gallery
* Listeners’ clock
* Danny at Abbey Road
* A-Z 94.9 Presenters
* 94.9 Presenters
Listen’s alright, of course, as is the guest gallery and photo from a feature – Danny at Abbey Road. The listener’s clock link is broken, generating a 404. The last two links seem to me like they’re the same thing, but oddly they’re not. The A-Z one seems to take you through to a features page about station content and the second 94.9 Presenters link goes through to another similar page (but different!) about station content. But brilliantly neither of these are the actual A-Z which lives somewhere else entirely.
The structure of the site changes as you dive into as well. The who’s on box moves up and down the right hand nav, including dropping below the fold quite often too.
The strange thing is the site does have some good features – it has a proper video-streaming webcam for instance, which means you can watch Bam pull his hair out as he’s trying to work out which buttons to press! But the only way you can find it is if you go to the webcams page, and then choose the sixth option. It’s not even linked to from the webcam link under the picture of the on-air presenter. Crazy.
The whole radio thing looks like an add-on to a local BBC News website. Now, whilst I think it’s a good idea that the BBC have local portals bringing together local content, the way it’s curated is really strange. The radio station (and the local TV news for that matter) are the ones who have the relationship with the audience and could be used to hold their hand and make /localarea an important part of their ongoing web experience.
But even discounting that they’re losing out on a massive opportunity. BBC Local Radio stations have huge audiences, many of which don’t consume any other local radio stations, it should be an open goal to transfer them to the web. At the same time the local BBC stations are predominantly speech and features, which would be the perfect extension to the on-air brand. At the moment the sites have absolutely no depth whatsoever, they’re the kind of place you would visit twice. Because on the second visit you realise that nothing’s really changed.
Resourcing things like websites are still issues for radio stations as the grapple with how audiences are changing, but surely large BBC local radio stations should have the right web people to reflect what they’re doing on air and catering for surely what their listeners want to read online?