There’s an entire selection of programs that a family can find on the radio. There are music shows that play either pre-recorded music or live music. There are news shows that discuss current events. And there are also sports shows that update listeners on whether or not their favorite team is winning the game.
Another kind of radio show, less popular than those mentioned above, is the radio drama. It’s known by a lot of other names such as “radio theater” and “radio play.” What makes this form of entertainment particularly interesting is the fact that it is wholly auditory. It relies solely on dialogue, background music, and sounds effects. Radio dramas have no visual component.
In radio drama, actors receive a script, and each of them takes on the role of a specific character. The story unfolds primarily through dialogue. Essentially, the radio drama seeks to tell a story. It’s very much like a play, but without the physical acting.
A Brief History Of Radio Drama
The radio drama began to gain popularity in the 1920s. However, its roots run deep into our history. Some sources say it broke ground as early as the 1880s. Others would go further back to the Ancient Period with Seneca, a Roman playwright. He was supposed to have written scripts that were for sound plays instead of performed for stage plays.
The radio drama continued to be a widespread form of entertainment up until the 1940s. It covered almost every genre—horror, mystery, thriller, romance, comedy, and much more.
In addition to original compositions, famous plays by well-renowned playwrights underwent modification so that they could be appropriate for radio. Examples of such plays include William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.
Later on, writers also began modifying books for radio dramas. Giles Cooper is just one of these writers or “radio dramatists” who wrote scripts that were specifically for the radio. He wrote radio dramatizations of a lot of books, including Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
In the 1950s, radio drama and radio programs, in general, began to decline. It is mainly due to the rising popularity of television as a source of entertainment. It was a step up from the usual radio drama as it presented something new—visuals.
While there were still many radio companies and writers producing radio dramas, they couldn’t surpass the appeal of the television. Ever since it entered the scene, radio dramas never regained the popularity it had lost.
Radio Drama In Contemporary Times
Recently, however, the entertainment industry has been met with a sort of revival of the radio drama. Arguably, it is no longer appropriate to call it “radio drama” as it does not air over radio frequencies. The more appropriate term would be “audio drama” or “audio play.” Nonetheless, the formula is more or less the same.
A myriad of audio dramas can now be found online and downloaded. These could have been produced either by companies or amateur writers and voice actors. The British Broadcasting Company is one of the companies that devotes its time to writing audio dramas.
Its radio station—BBC Radio 4—is in charge of the world’s longest-running audio drama, which is entitled “The Archers.” It’s a soap opera that runs for twelve minutes over the radio. The show has been running since May of 1951 and has continued up until the present. As of December 21, 2018, it has over 18,800 episodes.
The Simplicity Of The Radio Drama
One thing worthy of note is the popularity garnered by such a seemingly simple form of entertainment. The fact that audio dramas are still quite popular even in the age of technology says a lot.
The radio drama or audio drama relies on only one of the five senses. And it continues to thrive amidst other, more complex forms of entertainment. Televisions indulge two of them. And there are specialized cinemas that delight three—sight, hearing, and touch.
Note, however, that despite its simplicity, a lot of work goes into the creation of a radio drama. Writing a script that will captivate audiences just by the arrangement of scenes and dialogue is not easy. Neither is it easy to speak in such a way that conveys one’s emotions. It takes a lot of work to make a radio drama and even more to make a good one.
It goes to show how a well-written script and fantastic voice acting can go a long way. Complexity does not always define the quality of a piece of art or a form of entertainment. There are times where that which is simple but well-made will prevail over the more convoluted.
It’s fascinating how the radio drama has evolved and adapted to the changing times. It has gone from the “radio drama” to the “audio drama.” It’s no longer limited to being broadcasted on the radio. The Internet has provided a venue where this form of entertainment has and shall continue to thrive.