Above - a post on Mastodon, which got a few unthinking “boosts” (retweets). I don’t know who this person is, but it’s not that important.
But it did get me wondering. What was today’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme - the popular agenda-setting all-speech breakfast sequence on the radio station of record in the UK - actually composed of? And is it true that only 36 minutes was on “actual news”?
Let’s start with the run-down above: assuming the writer means that all these things were actual news, then that’s a total of 85 minutes. I’m a little unclear where the number 36 comes from.
Radio 4 used to publish the running order of Today, but they stopped doing that a number of years ago. Now, the only data on the show in the electronic programme guide is: “News and current affairs, including Sports Desk, Weather and Thought for the Day.” As a side note, it’s always amused me that a feature that lasts less than three minutes - and is not really the highlight of the programme, to be very generous - is always billed in the programme’s details.
So, I wondered if it was relatively easy to work out what was in it.
I started by downloading the programme, and putting it through a transcription engine to see what I could learn. I can’t tell you how I downloaded it, so let’s pretend that I sat in a quiet room, playing BBC Sounds for three hours on a telephone and recording the output, since that would be a legal way of doing it, yes.
After treating the output to bring it up to -14 LUFS, and outputting it as a 16kHz WAV file, I used Whisper.cpp on my Mac to transcribe the resulting three-hour audio file into a big SRT file.
I ended up with 4,286 lines of text, one for every 2.5 seconds of the programme, which I then categorised; and came up with the following…
Types of output
“Trails and adverts for its own stuff” account for 1.7% of the output, and they run just one trail every half-hour, except at the end of the programme. That’s five slots, roughly thirty seconds each.
“Furniture”, things like time checks, reminding us who the presenters are, etc, is even less: just 1.4% of the total output.
Interviews (with third parties) make up the most of the Today programme, unsurprisingly. Features - sport, weather, finance - come next; with reports (mainly interviews with BBC staff) making up the rest. More than 16% of the programme is the news bulletin. The red sliver at the top is the slightly redundant headlines before the news bulletin at the top of the hour.
The stories covered were quite varied. “OFCOM” is the story that’s “talking about themselves”, presumably; but a fair amount of that was an interview with the Culture Secretary, who got the 8.20am slot.
The storm got the most amount of coverage, followed by the finance news - gosh, there’s a lot of that - and then measles, sport, Ofcom, and the US Election.
At least one reader will be wondering, so I’ll put him out of his misery: there were three “give us a sense” today:
(6.35am) Give us a sense if you will first of all by nation, which is the worst affected?
(7.09am) Give us a sense if you would please of what happened where you are overnight
(8.13am) Give us a sense if you would of what’s happening in terms of how the train services into and perhaps out of London have been affected.
… to a reporter in Euston station, by the way, directly after speaking to someone in Belfast.
Radio 4, of course, has the pips at the top of each hour.
Not sure what we can learn from all this, but there we are; for education, at least, it’s interesting to see how that programme is built.