Birmingham’s volunteer-run radio station Rhubarb Radio is garnering international attention for the unique way it is tapping into the city’s live music scene.
Fresh from scooping the Digital Innovation Award at the Midlands Media Awards last month, the radio station recently hosted a visit from representatives of Citilab, a Barcelona-based digital initiative who came over to get to know the city’s social media scene.
Rhubarb Radio director Daniel Cremin said the Spanish organisation wanted to learn more about how the station was streaming live music from 23 venues in the city – an initiative he believes is unique to Birmingham.
He said: “No other city across the world is doing anything near what we are doing. Birmingham doesn’t have the equivalent of a Google but Rhubarb Radio is presenting pretty much a world first.
“Nobody is networking the venues in the way we have and they are interested in doing something similar.
“We are taking a digital thumbprint on what is happening in the music world in Birmingham.”
The radio station has formed links with venues around the city – such as Factory at the Custard Factory, the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath and The Rainbow in Digbeth, to broadcast live gigs online.
The station can simultaneously stream several gigs live on the Rhubarb Radio website by taking a feed direct from the mixing desk at the venue.
Mr Cremin said the station was keen to expand the number of venues it streams.
“We have got 200 venues in the city and our ambition within 18 months is to be streaming 100 of those,” he said.
“We are in negotiations with ArtsFest to stream venues such as the Town Hall and The Rep.”
He pointed to research by a Dutch organisation which found that venues which allowed live streaming could expect an increase in audience numbers at the gigs by around a third.
As a result of the visit from Citilab, the two organisations are in discussions over a twinning project where members of the social media community in Birmingham would take part in a cultural exchange with their equivalents in Barcelona.
“The Digital Britain report referenced Area 22 in Barcelona which Citilab is part of – it’s a bit like the equivalent of Birmingham’s Digital Digbeth.
“There is an obvious link because Birmingham is developing itself as a digital city and it makes sense to learn about what’s happening over there,” he said.
Rhubarb Radio is also opening up innovative ways of gathering news and content for its radio shows and websites.
Drawing on the skills of its volunteers, the station has developed a programme which “scrapes” locally-generated blogs looking for the posts which create the biggest spike of interest in terms of traffics and comments.
“We link to it and might edit it a bit and also presenters have the opportunity to look at it and see how it’s relevant to their show,” said Mr Cremin
“The content we create is generated by the people of Birmingham.”
Mr Cremin said the station was different to commercial radio stations in the city due to its stance on advertising.
“Because we don’t take advertising we are not competing with the commercial stations,” he said.
“Also we are not competing with any other radio station because we do not service the same audience. Increasingly companies are contacting us to tap into our contact with local creatives and explore how we can help them with social media strategies. That’s how Rhubarb Radio will carry on without resorting to advertising.”