History of the Backyard

backyard poster
Poster from launch of Backyard in 1999
The Backyard story is one of people, place and communication.

It began in the mid to late 90s when Local Radio staff started dabbling with emerging technology. At that time it was a cottage industry and most of the dabblers learnt web production in their own time and in their own way.

Recipes to burn

It was recipes that first caught the attention of the public and Local Radio staff.

By 1997, many program makers were adding recipes to their web sites and stations soon started receiving phone calls if the weekly recipe wasn’t online when their audience expected it.

The earliest of these recipes still online is this Baked Lemon Tart.

Your say

4QR schedule from 1998
To tap into the diversity of the communities they served, interactive features were developed, beginning with guestbooks and community event diaries. Some program makers used these features to encourage the creativity of their listeners, such as the interactive storytelling competition with the best posts rounding out a story started by author Peter Corris.

Before 1998, the sites had no collective identity. The Head of Local Radio, Sue Howard, sought to consolidate the sites, establishing seed positions in Adelaide and Albany and equipping some regions with portable video cameras.

A year later, producer Abby Robinson was given the daunting task of developing 45 Local Radio sites around Australia. “The Backyard” was launched in September 1999.

Some of the metropolitan sites were relatively comprehensive but even the smallest site had four pages, including a program guide.

During this time, a number of radio stations introduced studio webcams. Adelaide even put one on the roof giving people worldwide a view of the city skyline.

Live audio streaming began with a trial of Coast FM in 2000. National programs such as Saturday Night Country, and Nightlife were online attracting niche audiences, as were a range of video projects.

By 2001, The Backyard had extended its use of audio on demand, video and interactive elements, such as footy tipping and online forums.

Showcasing local talent

3LO Site map
Around the same time ABC Radio introduced the Regional Production Fund, aimed at showcasing regional talent throughout Australia. The first project with a major online component was the Flash storytelling in Sunshine Coast Stories.

The Australian Word Map was a co-production between ABC Online and The Macquarie Library Pty. Ltd., publishers of the Macquarie Dictionary. It is a joint project that allows audiences to engage and interact with a rich, interesting and ever-increasing collection of Australian regionalisms – words, phrases and expressions used by particular language communities.

When The Backyard started using top-level ABC Internet domains in 2002, (such as abc.net.au/brisbane), already on the horizon was the introduction of the National Interest Initiative positions; 23 radio broadcasters in regional Australia who would spend half their time producing online content.

Following the training of these cross media producers in 2003, the first broadband video began appearing on Backyard web sites, and the amount of new content increased to 35 pages per day.

By 2003, The Backyard had firmly embraced XML (a web publishing language which gives greater flexibility in delivering material) as a production tool, delivering a wide range of services including weather and local news. The backyard was also gaining a reputation for coverage of local events and issues such as the Canberra bushfires.

Audience participation

original About page for 2BL
Lifting the level of audience participation became the main focus in 2004. The high quality Australian Snapshots website saw 150 ABC Local Radio listeners venture into their communities armed with disposable cameras. Their brief? To capture the diversity of sporting, leisure and day-to-day activities in their region.

The Backyard is a window on local Australia, attracting more than 1 million page accesses per week and continuing to reflect the diversity of Australia’s urban and regional population.

By Rae Allen

Rae Allen is a digital media professional.

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