audio drama


Radio drama (or audio drama, audio play, radio play, radio theatre, or audio theatre) is a dramatized, purely acoustic
performance A performance is an act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment. It is also defined as the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function. Management science In the work place, ...

. With no visual component, radio
drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (theatre), play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on Radio drama, radio or television.Elam (1980, 98). Considered as a g ...

depends on dialogue, music and sound effects to help the listener imagine the characters and story: "It is auditory in the physical dimension but equally powerful as a visual force in the psychological dimension." Radio drama includes plays specifically written for radio,
docudrama A docudrama (or documentary drama) is a genre of Radio programming, radio and television show, television programming, feature film, and staged theatre, which features Drama (film and television), dramatized Historical reenactment, re-enactments ...
, dramatized works of
fiction Fiction is any creative workA creative work is a manifestation of creative effort including fine artwork (sculpture Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculp ...

, as well as
plays Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content service * Play Framework, a Java framework * Play ...
originally written for the theatre, including
musical theatre Musical theatre is a form of theatre, theatrical performance that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting and dance. The story and emotional content of a musical – humor, pathos, love, anger – are communicated through words, music, ...
, and
opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the Italian word "opera") is typically a c ...

. Radio drama achieved widespread popularity within a decade of its initial development in the 1920s. By the 1940s, it was a leading international popular entertainment. With the advent of
television Television, sometimes shortened to TV or telly, is a telecommunication Media (communication), medium used for transmitting moving images in grayscale, black-and-white or in color, and in two or 3D television, three dimensions and sound. The ...

in the 1950s radio drama began losing its audience. However, it remains popular in much of the world. Recordings of OTR (
old-time radio The Golden Age of Radio, also known as the old-time radio (OTR) era, was an era of radio in the United States where it was the dominant electronic home entertainment, entertainment medium. It began with the birth of commercial radio broadcastin ...
) survive today in the audio archives of collectors, libraries and museums, as well as several online sites such as
Internet Archive The Internet Archive is an American with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos ...
. By the 21st century, radio drama had a minimal presence on terrestrial radio in the United States, with much American radio drama being restricted to rebroadcasts of programmes from previous decades. However, other nations still have thriving traditions of radio drama. In the United Kingdom, for example, the
BBC The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster, headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of ...

produces and broadcasts hundreds of new radio plays each year on
Radio 3
Radio 3
Radio 4
Radio 4
, and
Radio 4 Extra BBC Radio 4 Extra is a British Digital radio in the United Kingdom, digital radio broadcasting, radio station from the BBC, broadcasting archived repeats of comedy, drama and documentary programmes nationally, 24 hours a day. It is the princip ...
. Like the US, Australia ABC has abandoned broadcasting drama but in New Zealand RNZ continues to promote and broadcast a variety of drama over its airwaves. Thanks to advances in digital recording and Internet distribution, radio drama experienced a revival around 2010.
Podcast A podcast is an episodic series of spoken word digital audio Digital audio is a representation of sound recorded in, or converted into, Digital signal (signal processing), digital form. In digital audio, the sound wave of the audio signal i ...

ing offered the means of inexpensively creating new radio dramas, in addition to the distribution of vintage programs. The terms "audio drama" or "audio theatre" are sometimes used synonymously with "radio drama"; however, audio drama or audio theatre may not necessarily be intended specifically for broadcast on radio. Audio drama can also be found on
cassette tape The Compact Cassette or Musicassette (MC), also commonly called the tape cassette, cassette tape, audio cassette, or simply tape or cassette, is an analog magnetic tape Magnetic tape is a medium for , made of a thin, magnetizable coating ...

cassette tape
podcast A podcast is an episodic series of spoken word digital audio Digital audio is a representation of sound recorded in, or converted into, Digital signal (signal processing), digital form. In digital audio, the sound wave of the audio signal i ...

webcast A webcast is a media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media Streaming media is multimedia Multimedia is a form of communication that combines different content forms such as text, audio, images, animations, or ...
s as well as broadcast radio.


The Roman playwright "
Seneca Seneca may refer to: People and language *Seneca (name), a list of people with either the given name or surname *Seneca the Elder, a Roman rhetorician, writer and father of the stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger *Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoi ...
has been claimed as a forerunner of radio drama because his plays were performed by readers as sound plays, not by actors as stage plays; but in this respect Seneca had no significant successors until 20th-century technology made possible the widespread dissemination of sound plays."

1880–1930: Early years

Radio drama traces its roots back to the 1880s: "In 1881 French engineer Clement Ader had filed a patent for ‘improvements of Telephone Equipment in Theatres’" (
Théâtrophone Théâtrophone ("the theatre phone") was a telephony, telephonic distribution system available in portions of Europe that allowed the subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over the telephone lines. The théâtrophone evolved from a ...
). English-language radio drama seems to have started in the United States. ''A Rural Line on Education'', a brief sketch specifically written for radio, aired on
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, ...

's KDKA in 1921, according to historian Bill Jaker. Newspaper accounts of the era report on a number of other drama experiments by America's commercial radio stations: KYW broadcast a season of complete operas from Chicago starting in November 1921. In February 1922, entire
Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S. ** Broadway (Manhattan), the street **Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
musical comedies with the original casts aired from WJZ's Newark studios. Actors Grace George and Herbert Hayes performed an entire play from a San Francisco station in the summer of 1922. An important turning point in radio drama came when
Schenectady, New York Schenectady () is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. ...
's WGY, after a successful tryout on August 3, 1922, began weekly studio broadcasts of full-length stage plays in September 1922, using music, sound effects and a regular troupe of actors, The WGY Players. Aware of this series, the director of
Cincinnati Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North A ...

WLW WLW (700 AM) is a commercial News/Talk radio station , Sweden , Norway Radio broadcasting is transmission of audio signal, audio (sound), sometimes with related metadata, by radio waves intended to reach a wide audience. In terrestrial radi ...

began regularly broadcasting one-acts (as well as excerpts from longer works) in November.Lawrence Lichty, "Radio Drama: The Early Years" in Lawrence Lichty and Malachi Topping (eds): ''American Broadcasting'' (New York, Hastings House, 1975). The success of these projects led to imitators at other stations. By the spring of 1923, original dramatic pieces written specially for radio were airing on stations in Cincinnati (''When Love Wakens'' by WLW's Fred Smith), Philadelphia (''The Secret Wave'' by Clyde A. Criswell) and Los Angeles (''At Home'' over KHJ). That same year, WLW (in May) and WGY (in September) sponsored scripting contests, inviting listeners to create original plays to be performed by those stations' dramatic troupes. Listings in ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' (''NYT'' or ''NY Times'') is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 130 Pulit ...

The New York Times
'' and other sources for May 1923 reveal at least 20 dramatic offerings were scheduled (including one-acts, excerpts from longer dramas, complete three- and four-act plays, operettas and a
Molière Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (; 15 January 1622 (baptised) – 17 February 1673), known by his stage name Molière (, , ), was a French playwright, actor, and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the and world literature. His ...

adaptation), either as in-studio productions or by remote broadcast from local theaters and opera houses. An early British drama broadcast was of
Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national po ...

's ''
A Midsummer Night's Dream ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' is a comedy Comedy (from the el, wikt:κωμῳδία, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, es ...

A Midsummer Night's Dream
'' on 2LO on 25 July 1923. Serious study of American radio drama of the 1920s and early 1930s is, at best, very limited. Unsung pioneers of the art include: WLW's Fred Smith; Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll (who popularized the dramatic serial); ''The Eveready Hour'' creative team (which began with one-act plays but was soon experimenting with hour-long combinations of drama and music on its weekly variety program); the various acting troupes at stations like WLW, WGY, KGO (AM), KGO and a number of others, frequently run by women like Helen Schuster Martin and Wilda Wilson Church; early network continuity writers like Henry Fisk Carlton, William Ford Manley and Don Clark; producers and directors like Clarence Menser and Gerald Stopp; and a long list of others who were credited at the time with any number of innovations but who are largely forgotten or undiscussed today. Elizabeth McLeod's 2005 book on Gosden and Correll's early work is a major exception, as is Richard J. Hand's 2006 study of horror radio, which examines some programs from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Another notable early radio drama, one of the first specially written for the medium in the UK, was ''A Comedy of Danger'' by Richard Hughes (writer), Richard Hughes, broadcast by the
BBC The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster, headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of ...

on January 15, 1924, about a group of people trapped in a Welsh coal mine. One of the earliest and most influential French radio plays was the prize-winning "Marémoto" ("Seaquake"), by Gabriel Germinet and Pierre Cusy, which presents a realistic account of a sinking ship before revealing that the characters are actually actors rehearsing for a broadcast. Translated and broadcast in Germany and England by 1925, the play was originally scheduled by Radio-Paris to air on October 23, 1924, but was instead banned from French radio until 1937 because the government feared that the dramatic SOS messages would be mistaken for genuine distress signals. In 1951, American writer and producer Arch Oboler suggested that Wyllis Cooper's ''Lights Out (radio show), Lights Out'' (1934–47) was the first true radio drama to make use of the unique qualities of radio: Though the series is often remembered solely for its gruesome stories and sound effects, Cooper's scripts for ''Lights Out'' were later recognized as well written and offered innovations seldom heard in early radio dramas, including multiple first-person narrators, Stream of consciousness writing, stream of consciousness monologues and scripts that contrasted a duplicitous character's internal monologue and his spoken words. The question of who was the first to write stream-of-consciousness drama for radio is a difficult one to answer. By 1930, Tyrone Guthrie had written plays for the BBC like ''Matrimonial News'' (which consists entirely of the thoughts of a shopgirl awaiting a blind date) and ''The Flowers Are Not for You to Pick'' (which takes place inside the mind of a drowning man). After they were published in 1931, Guthrie's plays aired on the American networks. Around the same time, Guthrie himself also worked for the Canadian National Railway radio network, producing plays written by Merrill Denison that used similar techniques. A 1940 article in ''Variety'' credited a 1932 NBC play, ''Drink Deep'' by Don Johnson, as the first stream-of-consciousness play written for American radio. The climax of Lawrence Holcomb's 1931 NBC play ''Skyscraper'' also uses a variation of the technique (so that the listener can hear the final thoughts and relived memories of a man falling to his death from the title building). There were probably earlier examples of stream-of-consciousness drama on the radio. For example, in December 1924, actor Paul Robeson, then appearing in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's ''The Emperor Jones'', performed a scene from the play over New York's WGBS to critical acclaim. Some of the many storytellers and monologists on early 1920s American radio might be able to claim even earlier dates.

1930–1960s: Widespread popularity

Perhaps America's most famous radio drama broadcast is Orson Welles' ''The War of the Worlds (radio), The War of the Worlds'' (a 1938 version of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, novel), which convinced large numbers of listeners that an actual invasion from Mars was taking place. By the late 1930s, radio drama was widely popular in the United States (and also in other parts of the world). There were dozens of programs in many different genres, from mysteries and thrillers, to soap operas and comedies. Among American playwrights, screenwriters and novelists who got their start in radio drama are Rod Serling and Irwin Shaw. In Britain, however, during the 1930s BBC programming, tended to be more high brow, including the works of Shakespeare, Classical Greek drama, as well as the works of major modern playwrights, such as Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg, and so forth. Novels and short stories were also frequently dramatised. In addition the plays of contemporary writers and original plays were produced, with, for example, a broadcast of T. S. Eliot's famous verse play ''Murder in the Cathedral'' in 1936. By 1930, the BBC was producing "twice as many plays as London's West End of London, West End" and were producing over 400 plays a year by the mid-1940s. Producers of radio drama soon became aware that adapting stage plays for radio did not always work, and that there was a need for plays specifically written for radio, which recognized its potential as a distinct and different medium from the theatre. George Bernard Shaw's plays, for example, were seen as readily adaptable. However, in a lead article in the BBC literary journal ''The Listener'', of 14 August 1929, which discussed the broadcasting of 12 great plays, it was suggested that while the theatrical literature of the past should not be neglected the future lay mainly with plays written specifically for the microphone. In 1939–40, the BBC founded its own Drama Repertory Company which made a stock of actors readily available. After the war, the number was around 50. They performed in the great number of plays broadcast in the heyday of BBC radio drama of the 40s–60s. Initially the BBC resisted American-style 'soap opera', but eventually highly popular serials, like ''Dick Barton, Special Agent'' (1946–51), ''Mrs Dale's Diary'' (1948–69) and ''The Archers'' (1950– ), were produced. ''The Archers'' is still running (October 2017) and is the world's longest-running soap opera with a total of over 18,400 episodes. There had been some earlier serialized drama including, the six episode ''The Shadow of the Swastika'' (1939), Dorothy L. Sayers's ''The Man Born To Be King'', in twelve episodes (1941), and ''Front Line Family'' (1941–48), which was broadcast to America as part of the effort to encourage the US to enter the war. The show's storylines depicted the trials and tribulations of a British family, the Robinsons, living through the war. This featured plots about rationing, family members missing in action and the Blitz. After the war in 1946 it was moved to the ''BBC Light Programme''. The BBC continued producing various kinds of drama, including docu-drama, throughout World War II; amongst the writers they employed were the novelist James Hanley (novelist), James Hanley and poet Louis MacNeice, who in 1941 became an employee of the BBC's. MacNeice's work for the BBC initially involved writing and producing radio programmes intended to build support for the US, and later Russia, through cultural programmes emphasising links between the countries rather than outright propaganda. By the end of the war MacNeice had written well over 60 scripts for the BBC, including ''Christopher Columbus'' (1942), which starred Laurence Olivier, ''The Dark Tower'' (1946), and a six-part radio adaptation of Goethe's ''Goethe's Faust, Faust'' (1949). Following World War II the BBC reorganized its radio provision, introducing two new channels to supplement the BBC Home Service (itself the result of the fusion in September 1939 of the pre-war BBC National Programme, National and BBC Regional Programme, regional Programmes). These were the ''BBC Light Programme'' (dating from 29 July 1945 and a direct successor to the wartime'' BBC General Forces Programme, General Forces Programme'') and the'' BBC Third Programme ''(launched on 29 September 1946). The ''BBC Light Programme'', while principally devoted to light entertainment and music, carried a fair share of drama, both single plays (generally, as the name of the station indicated, of a lighter nature) and serials. In contrast, the ''BBC Third Programme'', destined to become one of the leading cultural and intellectual forces in post-war Britain, specialized in heavier drama (as well as the serious music, talks, and other features which made up its content): long-form productions of both classical and modern/experimental dramatic works sometimes occupied the major part of its output on any given evening. ''The Home Service'', meanwhile, continued to broadcast more "middle-brow" drama (one-off plays and serializations) daily. The high-water mark for BBC radio drama was the 1950s and 1960s, and during this period many major British playwrights either effectively began their careers with the BBC, or had works adapted for radio. Most of playwright Caryl Churchill's early experiences with professional drama production were as a radio playwright and, starting in 1962 with ''The Ants'', she wrote nine productions with BBC radio drama up until 1973, when her stage work began to be recognised at the Royal Court Theatre. Joe Orton's dramatic debut in 1963 was the radio play ''The Ruffian on the Stair'', which was broadcast on 31 August 1964. Tom Stoppard's "first professional production was in the 15-minute ''Just Before Midnight'' programme on BBC Radio, which showcased new dramatists". John Mortimer made his radio debut as a dramatist in 1955, with his adaptation of his own novel ''Like Men Betrayed'' for the ''BBC Light Programme''. However, he made his debut as an original playwright with ''The Dock Brief'', starring Michael Hordern as a hapless barrister, first broadcast in 1957 on ''BBC Third Programme'', later televised with the same cast and subsequently presented in a double bill with ''What Shall We Tell Caroline?'' at the Lyric Hammersmith in April 1958, before transferring to the Garrick Theatre. Mortimer is most famous for ''Rumpole of the Bailey'', a British television series which starred Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole, an aging London barrister who defends any and all clients. It has been spun off into a series of short stories, novels, and radio programmes. Giles Cooper (playwright), Giles Cooper was a pioneer in writing for radio, becoming prolific in both radio and television drama. His early successes included radio dramatisations of Charles Dickens's ''Oliver Twist'', William Golding's ''Lord of the Flies'', and John Wyndham's classic science fiction novel ''Day of the Triffids''. He was also successful in the theatre. The first of his radio plays to make his reputation was ''Mathry Beacon'' (1956), about a small detachment of men and women still guarding a Top Secret "missile deflector" somewhere in Wales, years after the war has ended. Bill Naughton's radio play ''Alfie Elkins and his Little Life'' (1962) was first broadcast on the ''BBC Third Programme'' on 7 January 1962. In it Alfie, "[w]ith sublime amorality... swaggers and philosophises his way through" life. The action spans about two decades, from the beginning of World War II to the late 1950s. In 1964, Bill Naughton turned it into a stage play which was put on at London's Mermaid Theatre. Later, he wrote the screenplay for a film version, "Alfie (1966 film), Alfie" (1966), starring Michael Caine. Other notable radio dramatists included Henry Reed (poet), Henry Reed, Brendan Behan, Rhys Adrian, Alan Plater; Anthony Minghella, Alan Bleasdale, and novelist Angela Carter. Novelist Susan Hill also wrote for BBC Radio, from the early 1970s. Henry Reed (poet), Henry Reed was especially successful with the Hilda Tablet plays. Irish playwright Brendan Behan, author of ''The Quare Fellow'' (1954), was commissioned by the BBC to write a radio play ''The Big House'' (1956); prior to this he had written two plays for Irish radio: ''Moving Out'' and ''A Garden Party''. Among the most famous works created for radio, are Dylan Thomas's ''Under Milk Wood'' (1954), Samuel Beckett's ''All That Fall'' (1957), Harold Pinter's ''A Slight Ache'' (1959), and Robert Bolt's ''A Man for All Seasons'' (1954). Beckett wrote a number of short radio plays in the 1950s and 1960s, and later for television; his radio play ''Embers'' was first broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 24 June 1959 and won the RAI prize at the Prix Italia awards later that year. Robert Bolt's writing career began with scripts for ''Children's Hour''. ''A Man for All Seasons'' was subsequently produced on television in 1957. Then in 1960, there was a highly successful stage production in London's West End and on New York's
Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S. ** Broadway (Manhattan), the street **Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
from late 1961. In addition there have been two film versions: in 1966 starring Paul Scofield and 1988 for television, starring Charlton Heston. While Alan Ayckbourn did not write for radio many of his stage plays were subsequently adapted for radio. Other significant adaptations included, dramatised readings of poet David Jones (poet), David Jones's ''In Parenthesis'' in 1946 and ''The Anathemata'' in 1953, for the ''BBC Third Programme,'' and novelist Wyndham Lewis's ''The Human Age'' (1955). Among contemporary novels that were dramatised were the 1964 radio adaptation of Stan Barstow's ''A Kind of Loving'' (1960); there had also been a 1962 film adaption. In Australia, as in most other developed countries, from the early years of the medium almost every radio network and station featured drama, serials, and soap operas as staples of their programming; during the so-called "Golden Years" of radio these were hugely popular. Many Australian serials and "soapies" were copies of American originals (e.g., the popular soap ''Portia Faces Life'' or the adventure series ''The Adventures of Superman (radio), Superman'', which featured future Australian TV star Leonard Teale in the title role), although these were typically locally produced and performed live to air, since the technology of the time did not permit high-quality pre-recording or duplication of programs for import or export. In this period radio drama, serials and soap operas provided a fertile training ground and a steady source of employment for many actors, and this was particularly important because at this time the Australian theatre scene was in its infancy and opportunities were very limited. Many who trained in this medium (such as Peter Finch) subsequently became prominent both in Australia and overseas. It has been noted that the producers of the popular 1960s Gerry Anderson TV series ''Thunderbirds (TV series), Thunderbirds'' were greatly impressed by the versatility of UK-based Australian actor Ray Barrett, who voiced many roles in Anderson's TV productions. Thanks to his early experience on Australian live radio (where he often played English and American roles), Barrett was considered better than his English counterparts at providing a convincing Mid-Atlantic English ("transatlantic") accent, and he could perform a wide range of character voices; he also impressed the Anderson team with his ability to quickly and easily switch from one voice/accent to another without the sound engineers' having to stop the recording. The effect of the introduction of television there in the late 1950s had the same devastating effects as it did in the US and many other markets, and by the early 1960s Australian commercial radio had totally abandoned radio drama and related programming (including comedy, soapies, and variety) in favour of music-based formats (such as Top 40) or talk radio ("talkback"), and the once-flourishing Australia radio production industry vanished within a few years. One of the few companies to survive was the Melbourne-based Crawford Productions, which was able to make the successful transition into TV production. Despite the complete abandonment of drama and related programming by the commercial radio sector, the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) maintained a long history of producing radio drama. One of its most famous and popular series was the daily 15-minute afternoon soap opera ''Blue Hills (radio serial), Blue Hills'', which was written for its entire production history by dramatist Gwen Meredith. It featured many well-known Australian actresses and actors, ran continuously for 27 years, from 28 February 1949 to 30 September 1976, with a total of 5,795 episodes broadcast, and was at one time the world's longest-running radio serial. It was preceded by an earlier Meredith serial ''The Lawsons'', which featured many of the same themes and characters and itself ran for 1299 episodes. In the 1960s and later, the ABC continued to produce many original Australian radio dramas as well as works adapted from other media. In recent years original radio dramas and adapted works were commissioned from local dramatists and produced for the ABC's Radio National network program ''Airplay'', which ran from the late 1990s until early 2013. In late 2012 ABC management imposed budget cuts and axed a number of long-running arts programs, thereby ending the national broadcaster's decades-long history of producing radio drama (as well as its equally long history of providing daily serialised book readings).

1960–2000: Decline in the United States

After the advent of television, radio drama never recovered its popularity in the United States. Most remaining CBS and NBC radio dramas were cancelled in 1960. The last network radio dramas to originate during American radio's "Golden Age", ''Suspense (radio drama), Suspense'' and ''Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar'', ended on September 30, 1962. There have been some efforts at radio drama since then. In the 1960s, Dick Orkin created the popular syndicated comic adventure series ''Chicken Man''. ABC Radio Network, ABC Radio aired a daily dramatic anthology program, ''Theater Five'', in 1964–65. Inspired by ''The Goon Show'', "the four or five crazy guys" of the Firesign Theatre built a large following with their satirical plays on recordings exploring the dramatic possibilities inherent in stereo. A brief resurgence of production beginning in the early 1970s yielded Rod Serling's ''The Zero Hour (U.S. radio series), The Zero Hour'' for Mutual Broadcasting System, Mutual, National Public Radio's ''Earplay'', and veteran Himan Brown's ''CBS Radio Mystery Theater'' and ''General Mills Radio Adventure Theater''. These productions were later followed by the ''Sears Radio Theater, Sears/Mutual Radio Theater'', ''The National Radio Theater of Chicago'', ''NPR Playhouse'', and a newly produced episode of the former 1950s series ''X Minus One''. Works by a new generation of dramatists also emerged at this time, notably Yuri Rasovsky, Thomas Lopez of ZBS Foundation, ZBS and the dramatic sketches heard on humorist Garrison Keillor's ''A Prairie Home Companion''. Brian Daley's 1981 adaptation of the Blockbuster (entertainment), blockbuster space opera film ''Star Wars (radio), Star Wars'' for ''NPR Playhouse'' was a notable success. Production costs on this serial were mitigated by the support of Lucasfilm, who sold the rights to NPR for a nominal $1 fee, and by the participation of the BBC in an international co-production deal. ''Star Wars'' was credited with generating a 40% rise in NPR's ratings and quadrupling the network's youth audience overnight. Radio adaptations of the sequels followed with ''The Empire Strikes Back'' in 1983 and ''Return of the Jedi'' in 1996. Thanks in large part to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, public radio continued to air a smattering of audio drama until the mid-1980s. From 1986 to 2002, NPR's most consistent producer of radio drama was the idiosyncratic Joe Frank, working out of KCRW in Santa Monica. The Syfy, Sci Fi Channel presented an audio drama series, ''Seeing Ear Theatre'', on its website from 1997 to 2001. Also, the dramatic serial ''It's Your World'' aired twice daily on the nationally syndicated ''Tom Joyner Morning Show'' from 1994 to 2008, continuing online through 2010.

2000–present: Radio drama's "New Media" revival

Radio drama remains popular in much of the world, though most material is now available through internet download rather than heard over terrestrial or satellite radio. Stations producing radio drama often commission a large number of scripts. The relatively low cost of producing a radio play enables them to take chances with works by unknown writers. Radio can be a good training ground for beginning drama writers as the words written form a much greater part of the finished product; bad lines cannot be obscured with stagecraft. The BBC's sole surviving radio soap opera, soap is ''The Archers'' on BBC Radio 4: it is, with over 18,700 episodes to date, the world's longest-running such programme. Other radio soaps ("ongoing serials") produced by the BBC but no longer on air include: * ''Mrs Dale's Diary'' (1948–69) * ''Westway (soap opera), Westway'' on the BBC World Service, World Service (1997–2005) * ''Silver Street'' (2004–10) on the BBC Asian Network, Asian Network In September, 2010 Radio New Zealand began airing its first ongoing soap opera, ''You Me Now'', which won the Best New Drama Award in the 2011 New Zealand Radio Awards. On KDVS radio in Davis, California there are two radio theater shows, Evening Shadows, a horror/fantasy show paying tribute to classic old-time radio horror, and KDVS Radio Theater which commonly features dramas about social and political themes. The audio drama format exists side by side with books on the radio, books presented on radio, read by actors or by the author. In Britain and other countries there is also quite a bit of radio comedy (both stand-up and sitcom). Together, these programs provide entertainment where television is either not wanted or would be distracting (such as while driving or operating machinery). Selected Shorts, a long-running NPR program broadcast in front of a live audience at Symphony Space in New York, originated the ''driveway moment'' for over 300,000 people listeners each week during readings of contemporary and classic short stories by well-known professional actors. The lack of visuals also enable fantastical settings and effects to be used in radio plays where the cost would be prohibitive for movies or television. ''The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'' was first produced as radio drama, and was not adapted for television until much later, when its popularity would ensure an appropriate return for the high cost of the futuristic setting. On occasion television series can be revived as radio series. For example, a long-running but no longer popular television series can be continued as a radio series because the reduced production costs make it cost-effective with a much smaller audience. When an organization owns both television and radio channels, such as the
BBC The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster, headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of ...

, the fact that no royalties have to be paid makes this even more attractive. Radio revivals can also use actors reprising their television roles even after decades as they still sound roughly the same. Series that have had this treatment include ''Doctor Who'', ''Dad's Army'', ''Thunderbirds (TV series), Thunderbirds'' and ''The Tomorrow People''. In 2013 BBC Radio 4 released a radio adaptation of ''Neverwhere (radio play), Neverwhere'' by Neil Gaiman, featuring a cast of well known television and film actors. Neil Gaiman has said he was excited about the radio drama adaptation as it allowed the work to be presented with a greater deal of special effects than was possible on television. In the United States, an adaptation of ''The Twilight Zone (radio series), The Twilight Zone'' aired to modest success in the 2000s (decade) as a syndicated program. Regular broadcasts of radio drama in English can be heard on the BBC's , and
Radio 4 Extra BBC Radio 4 Extra is a British Digital radio in the United Kingdom, digital radio broadcasting, radio station from the BBC, broadcasting archived repeats of comedy, drama and documentary programmes nationally, 24 hours a day. It is the princip ...
(formerly Radio 7), on RTÉ Radio 1 in Ireland, and RNZ National in New Zealand. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced notable radio plays in Calgary and Toronto in the postwar decades, from which many actors and directors proceeded to international careers, but abolished its radio drama department in the 1970s and finally ceased production of radio dramas in 2012. BBC Radio 4 in today noted for its radio drama, broadcasting hundreds of new, one-off plays each year in such strands as ''The Afternoon Play'', as well as Serial (radio and television), serials and soap operas.
Radio 4 Extra BBC Radio 4 Extra is a British Digital radio in the United Kingdom, digital radio broadcasting, radio station from the BBC, broadcasting archived repeats of comedy, drama and documentary programmes nationally, 24 hours a day. It is the princip ...
broadcasts a variety of radio plays from the BBC's vast archives and a few extended versions of Radio 4 programmes. The British commercial station Oneword, though broadcasting mostly book readings, also transmitted a number of radio plays in instalments before it closed in 2008. In the United States, contemporary radio drama can be found on broadcasters including ACB radio, produced by the American Council of the Blind; on the Sirius XM Book Radio channel from Sirius XM Satellite Radio (previously Sonic Theater on XM); and occasionally in syndication, as with Jim French's production ''Imagination Theater''. Several community radio stations carry weekly radio drama programs including KBOO, KFAI, WMPG, WLPP and WFHB. A growing number of religious radio stations air daily or weekly programs usually geared to younger audiences, such as Focus on the Family's ''Adventures in Odyssey'' (1,700+ syndicated stations), or Pacific Garden Mission's ''Unshackled!'' (1,800 syndicated stations – a long-running radio drama), which is geared to adults. The networks sometime sell transcripts of their shows on cassette tapes or CDs or make the shows available for listening or downloading over the Internet. Transcription recordings of many pre-television shows have been preserved. They are collected, re-recorded onto audio CDs and/or MP3 files and traded by hobbyists today as old-time radio programs. Meanwhile, veterans such as the late Yuri Rasovsky (The National Radio Theater of Chicago) and Thomas Lopez (ZBS Foundation) have gained new listeners on cassettes, CDs and downloads. In the mid-1980s, the nonprofit L.A. Theatre Works launched its radio series recorded before live audiences. Productions have been broadcast via public radio, while also being marketed on compact discs and via download. Carl Amari's nationally syndicated radio series "Hollywood 360" features 4 old-time radio shows during his 4-hour weekly broadcasts. Amari also broadcasts old-time radio shows on "The WGN Radio Theatre" heard every Saturday night beginning at 10 pm on 720-WGN in Chicago. In addition to traditional radio broadcasters, modern radio drama (also known as audio theater, or audio drama), has experienced a revival, with a growing number of independent producers who are able to build an audience through internet distribution. While there are few academic programs in the United States that offer training in radio drama production, organizations such as the National Audio Theatre Festival teach the craft to new producers. The digital age has also resulted in recording styles that differ from the studio recordings of radio drama's Old-time radio, Golden Age. ''Not from Space'' (2003) on XM Satellite Radio was the first national radio play recorded exclusively through the Internet in which the voice actors were all in separate locations. Other producers use portable recording equipment to record actors on location rather than in studios. Podcasts are a growing distribution format for independent radio drama producers. Podcasts provides an alternative to mainstream television and radio which does not necessarily require a pitching process to be made and distributed (as these aspects of production can be learned by the creator) and which have no restrictions regarding programme length or content.

Radios drama around the world


Since around the early sixties the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (RIK) features radio plays in the Cypriot Greek dialect. They are called Cypriot (radio drama) sketches and they are mainly about Cyprus's rural life, traditions and customs, its history and its culture. The works are written by established writers, but also from new writers through the Writing Contest of Cypriot Sketches issued annually by CyBC (RIK)


The first German radio drama was produced in 1923. Because of the external circumstances in postwar Germany in which most of the theaters were destroyed, radio drama boomed. Between 1945 and 1960 there were more than 500 radio plays every year. The German word for radio drama or audio play is 'Hörspiel'. Today Germany is a major market for radio plays worldwide. In particular, audio plays on CD are very popular. A popular audio play serial of Germany and of the world is "Die drei ???" (Three Investigators). Berlin's Prix Europa includes a Radio Fiction category.


Vividh Bharati, a service of All India Radio, has a long running Hindi radio-drama program: ''Hawa Mahal (radio program), Hawa Mahal''.

Republic of Ireland

RTÉ Radio Drama is one of the oldest audio theatre departments in the radio world.


Radio dramas began in Japan in 1925, and enjoyed a great level of popularity after the hit of "Tankou no Naka". This resulted in the NHK hiring famous writers to write radio drama scripts for 500 yen, which in 1930 was equivalent to 1 million yen in the present day. Due to voice acting in Japan having its own distinct culture, audio dramas continue to be popular in Japan, where they are now primarily released on disc as "drama CDs" (ドラマCD). They are also referred to in Japanese as "voice dramas" (ボイスドラマ). Many such audio dramas are based on anime, manga, novels and video games, but there are also many that are completely original. Though most drama CDs are commercial products made by corporate entities, there has been a growing number of ''doujin'' audio dramas in recent years due to it being easier for hobbyists to obtain the equipment required to make recordings, and the internet making distribution easier.


Radioteatret (Radio drama in Norway) has existed since 1926.


A low power radio station "M.C.O.K. Radio 2" (formally Pira FM) introduces a new programming block called "M.C.O.K. Television" - aims to replace the regular evening music programmes. The programming block is composed of British radio dramas and an Audio-Described version of British TV programmes such as Doctor Who, EastEnders and Horrible Histories. Since 1st of November, 2021, Radio dramas were scraped and replaced with more (Audio-Described) programmes - All At Sea, Dad's Army, Mrs. Brown's Boys and The Outlaw. The radio station broadcasts on 87.2 MHz every evening / late night. Due to the nature of low - power VHF propagation, the coverage is very limited, the radio station can be heard only in Lat Luang (Bangkok / Samut Prakan area). It is the first radio station in Thailand to broadcast both English radio / TV programmes on FM.

See also


Further reading

* Tim Crook, ''Radio Drama: Theory and Practice''. London; New York: Routledge, 1999. * Armin Paul Frank, ''Das englische und amerikanische Hörspiel''. München: Fink, 1981. * Walter K. Kingson and Rome Cowgill, ''Radio Drama Acting and Production: A Handbook''. New York: Rinehart, 1950. * Karl Ladle: ''Hörspielforschung. Schnittpunkt zwischen Literatur, Medien und Ästhetik''. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag, 2001. * Sherman Paxton Lawton, ''Radio Drama''. Boston: Expression Company, 1938. * Peter Lewis (ed.), ''Radio Drama''. London; New York: Longman, 1981. * Dermot Rattigan, ''Theatre of Sound: Radio and the Dramatic Imagination''. 2nd edition. Carysfort Press, 2003. * Neil Verma, ''Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics, and American Radio Drama.'' Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

External links
A directory of audio drama websites.
The Audio Drama Production Podcast
Instructional podcast on the production of audio drama.

Treatise on writing, producing, performing and directing audio plays in the 21st century.

(archived at the Wayback Machine)
National Audio Theatre Festivals
Radio drama workshop.

BBC sources

* The BBC Story – The Written Archives

* Radio Plays & Radio Drama webpage (England)

* ''British Radio Drama – A Cultural Case History'' by Tim Crook

{{Authority control Radio drama,