Hello Interwebs! Audio dramas are a sonic window into a world of imagination! They don’t get near enough credit with mainstream audiences. But audio dramas have more potential than ever before, and they are poised to make a big comeback!
NOTE: When I refer to “audio dramas”, assume I’m talking about all types of genres– comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, noir, western, romance, period pieces, etc.
My newfound appreciation for audio dramas derives from a radio program called “Theatre of the Mind”, which I recently discovered. They broadcast the best shows from radio’s Golden Age (1930s-1950s) and share behind-the-scenes facts about them. I’ve been listening almost every night for the last few months! And the stories still hold up, for the most part. I’ve come to believe that audio drama is an underrated art and it should see a resurgence.
In the unimaginable days before television, people only had radio, literature, theatres –live or on film– or (gasp!) social gatherings for their entertainment. And so it was that, during the Golden Age of radio, audio dramas peaked in popularity. For those who have never heard of them before– Radio plays were essentially the template for TV broadcasting: serialized stories or variety shows, often weekly adventures, consumed in the comfort of your own home.
Old radio plays have a deeper impact on pop culture than some people realize. Some classic examples: Orson Welles broadcast of H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds famously led to public panic. People who tuned into the broadcast late thought they were hearing legitimate news of an alien invasion; Daily radio dramas (later TV dramas), often sponsored by soap companies, were the first “Soap operas”; Kryptonite was invented for the Superman radio serial as an excuse to give its lead actor a vacation; and many of old Hollywood’s greatest stars (including Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Vincent Price, Eve Arden, and Lucille Ball), lent their vocal talents to these shows.
But that was back then. Why is this mode of storytelling relevant to now? First and foremost– it’s a break from 2021’s usual modes of entertainment. Our world is consumed by visual stimuli. Your average piece of media begs for your attention however it can: outlandish special effects, bright costumes, sickening gore, beautiful actors, etc.
It’s as Queen said in their hit song Radio Ga Ga:
We watch the shows, we watch the stars on video for hours and hours. We hardly need to use our ears… Like all good things on you we depend. So stick around, ’cause we might miss you when we grow tired of all this visual.”
Watching media and reading can be surprisingly exhausting for leisure activities. Your eyes may only look at screens/ pages so long before strain sets in (and please, nobody take that as a challenge). Alternatively, Audio dramas offer a legitimately relaxing entertainment experience. No need to strain any part of your body– just lay down, close your eyes, and listen.
Though a more tranquil way to consume stories, audio dramas are actually a more active experience than watching movies/ TV. Visual entertainment’s biggest drawback is its “passive” viewing nature: you shut off your brain (mostly), pry open your eyes, and carefully observe story events as they play out. You physically exist in one world, the story exists in another, and you’re looking through a window into that other realm. But, as invested as you might be, you’re doomed to watch this world from a distance.
Auditory entertainment, in comparison, forces your brain to engage with the story. Because all narrative details (other than audio cues) are unavailable, your mind naturally builds a world within your head. You visualize the settings, the costumes, the characters and the action for yourself. And these visualizations are entirely unique to your mind. To make sense of the world, you have to put yourself within it. There is no disconnect– no window– no “other world”. You’re simply there.
Two major hurdles of audio dramas since radio’s Golden Age have been their medium and their cost. Radio is far less popular than it once was. And, even as recently as 20 years ago, quality recording equipment was expensive for the average consumer. Therefore, people relied on professionals to make audio dramas for them. Problem is: broadcasting corporations (particularly in North America) decided long ago that new radio plays would not be worth their time. So any interested consumers were out of luck (unless they had access to old shows, or lived in a country which produced new ones).
But now the stage is set for an audio drama revival. Recording equipment is affordable and easy to come by. And the internet serves as a direct market for consumers across the globe. So anyone who wants to make audio dramas can do so, and listeners can easily discover them if they’re looking! Podcasts are already popular, and websites like Audible have accustomed new generations to auditory stories. The groundwork is there for audio drama to see a resurgence! However, fictional tales written specifically for an audio format remain an underground phenomenon for now. For anyone still on the fence– I’d like to point out that audio dramas are essentially podcasts with a story. So if you already listen to audio-only entertainment, you shouldn’t be put off by audio dramas.
And for those creative types out there looking for a new outlet– audio drama production may be worth exploring. From a logistics standpoint, they are arguably more challenging to produce than other media, but that’s a large part of the fun! You don’t have the unlimited descriptive space of a novel, or the visual short-cuts of other media. Your storytelling arsenal is limited to sound: voices, atmospheric noise, special effects (doors, walking, gunshots, etc). But if you’ve got decent recording equipment and you’re at least somewhat clever, you might produce something special.
Whether you want to check out the classics (which are mostly free online, by the way) or something new, I strongly urge you to try out audio dramas in the near future. They are a grossly underappreciated art form which deserves more love!
Back in 2014, I tried my hand at a short audio story! Because of its amateur recording quality, this isn’t the best introduction to audio drama, but it can give you a taste of what they’re like. And if you’re wondering “what’s up with our inclusion the 1960s Batman theme?”, just chalk it up to a strange creative choice. I’m embarrassed to say why we actually did it… If you please, enjoy The Mansfield Murder!
If you’ve listened to audio dramas (new or old) do you have any recommendations? What are some barriers preventing you from trying audio dramas? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,