Radio plays: very well forgotten old

With the development of technology, many areas of human activity and creativity are passing away and forgotten. The popularity of new media often causes the gradual extinction of old ones - only to ensure that this cycle repeats in a few (dozen) years.

For years, radio dramas have been an important home cultural entertainment. It can be hard to imagine how the inhabitants of entire streets gathered around one or two television sets, but before the advent of television, the radio became the center of the living room. Radio quickly began to be used not only to broadcast news: first, it was captured by advertising, and then culture and education.

The radio play is a theatrical performance, performed only with the help of sounds and broadcast by radio. It seems that this is a rather peculiar entertainment, but for some time almost everything that existed in the cultural field — plays and books, comics, and musicals — became radio stations.

This is a fascinating story - to the genre of radio dramas for almost a hundred years, and for almost sixty of them, he seems to be dying, trampled by new media formats from television to Twitter. However, radio drama is an important part of our culture and history.

Photo liz west / CC BY-SA 2.0

First radio plays

Until the 1920s, “popular radio stations” as such did not exist in the modern sense. From time to time, the radio broadcast news, talk, and music. Schedules were not - esters were rare, lasted for several hours. The most constant was the weather forecast, it was always transmitted at the same time. Sometimes they transmitted operas or symphonies - they were broadcast directly from the places where they were performed, less often - “inclusions” from theater plays or sporting events.

“Rural Education Line” - a small sketch written specifically for radio, was first broadcast on KDKA (radio of Pittsburgh) in 1921. It is considered the first radio show in history. After that, the whole Broadway musicals started broadcasting on the radio - they were performed by Broadway actors themselves. At the same time, the production was completely played out live.

In 1922, the British Broadcasting Corporation (British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC) was founded. She took up the development of regular broadcasting. As early as January 15, 1924, the BBC sounded the first in European history radio play, Comedy of Danger, written by Richard Hughes specifically for radio format.

Radio spectrum is an interesting experience of cultural consumption. Unlike the cinema, there are no visuals in the radio presentations, unlike books, there is almost no descriptive. Therefore, it all depends on the quality of the dialogues, music, musical effects and voice acting of the actors. The listener has to show a large share of the imagination, imagining the characters and the events taking place with them.

Important radio plays: War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds is perhaps one of the most popular radio dramas in history.

HG Wells published his cult novel in 1897. In 1938, his equally well-known namesake Orson Welles (directed by Citizen Kane and Lady of Shanghai) put on a radio spectrum based on the novel.

The text was redesigned to fit the needs of the event: the events of the novel were described as news releases, speeches by scholars and live broadcasts from the scene: the reporter spoke about the allegedly landed aliens, the Secretary of State (in a voice suspiciously similar to the voice of Franklin Roosevelt) addressed the nation, the radio amateur interrupted the broadcast trying to contact at least someone, and the head of the National Guard declared martial law. In the end, Orson Welles recalled that all this was only a production, and congratulated the audience on Halloween.

The performance was listened to by 6 million people, and many of them took what was happening for real news about the alien attack. Some turned on after the start of the production, when the announcer announced that it was only a radio drama. The production was not interrupted by advertising. By the fortieth minute, when the announcer again recalled the fictitiousness of events, many had already collected things to go to the other end of the country, and acquired weapons. Telephone lines were overloaded, New York got stuck in many hours of traffic jams.

To this day, the history of the radio specter on War of the Worlds remains an example of how the media can subdue reality. The Wells staging has become the “mother” of all the fake news — for example, when the radio stations announced the attack on Pearl Harbor, some have considered this to be another radio drama.

Important radio plays: Archers

In 1951, The Archers radio show started on the BBC - it remains on the air to this day. At the moment it is the longest radio drama in history - more than 18 thousand episodes . In fact, this is a “soap opera” in radio format, which tells about the life of a small fictional village Umbridge.

Interestingly, the program was originally supposed to solve educational and social problems - the story about the life of British farmers was designed to promote healthy and productive rural life (in those years, Britain was still suffering due to food shortages).

Now “Archers” is an important element of popular culture, the aggregate audience of which is 5 million people (by the way, more than 1 million of them listen to the program via the Internet).

The heyday of the genre ...

In the 1930s, radio plays became very popular, especially in America. There were hundreds of programs - soap operas and comedies, thrillers and horrors. Irvin Shaw and Rod Serling began their great writing career with radio shows. In the forties there were 8 hours of comedy programs (skits, performances, interviews), 8 hours of comedy dramas, 14 hours of thrillers and 47 hours of dramas a week.

British radio shows were more drawn to the classics — Shakespeare and the classic Greek tragedies, Chekhov and Ibsen, played on the air. Thomas Eliot wrote for Murder in the Cathedral Radio. In the late 1930s, the Drama Repertory Company appeared in Britain - a company that always had a list of actors ready to play in radio plays.

Interestingly, many radio shows somehow affected the topic of total or partial loss of vision. Hughes's first radio play, Comedy of Danger, spoke about the workers trapped in a mountain mine. Later it was touched in the most famous radio plays: “The Dark Tower” by Louis McNeese (1946), “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas (1954) and many others.

The audio format imposes certain restrictions. For example, if a character is silent for some time, but simply forgotten, it “disappears” from the scene. Significant pauses, views and sign language on the radio also do not work. The blindness of the heroes is a plot device that, as it were, brings the events described in the play closer to the listener - he, too, cannot see, but only hears what is happening.

Radio is often called the “blind medium” - our culture considers (and considers itself) mostly visual. Therefore, audio performances are a kind of deviation from the visual "norm", a format that lacks something to be good and successful. This, of course, is not so - because vision is only one of the senses. Different people can perceive one and the same audio in different ways. Radio dramas can tell deep and complex stories using the whole spectrum of human imagination.

... and its sunset

In the 1960s, television began to gain wide popularity — it was more “advanced” and interesting for the audience, and therefore for advertisers and corporations. By the end of the 60s, American radio stations that were part of large broadcasting companies (for example, CBS and NBC) canceled most regular radio shows.

The image turned out to be a simpler and more convenient way to influence the audience - to evoke emotions, to form and entertain. Nevertheless, some radio spectra are still alive (for example, the aforementioned “Archers” and several other plays that still go on the Air Force Radio 3 and the Air Force Radio 4).

Another feature of the closed media environment of the Air Force - sometimes not very popular television series can get a second life in the form of a radio show (for example, as happened with the series Dad's Amy ). Popular shows make special radio releases - for example, on the "national treasure" of Britain, the Doctor Who series, dozens of audio plays have been released .

In America, the production of radio plays took over the American Council of the Blind ( ACB ) - they are regularly on the air of its own radio station ACB.

Podcasts, which have remained quite popular in the last couple of decades, have become another form of audio play. We periodically tell about them in our blog, and also release our own podcast - “ Sound ”.

And how do you feel about the "conversational" audio content: radio plays, audio books, podcasts? What advantages, or, conversely, disadvantages, do they have in comparison with more familiar genres? Have you ever listened to audio? Share your impressions with us.


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