The History of Audio Drama
My flux capacitor finally arrived last week, and now that I have finished calibrating and fitting it to the DeLorean, that can only mean one thing. It’s about time we took a trip into the past to look at the History of Audio Drama.
By JMortonPhoto.com & OtoGodfrey.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44599380
Before we zoom off into the annals of time, let me give you a little bit of an outline, so that you know what to expect from this series.
There is more than enough material for us to wade through regarding its rich history; one could not only write a book but probably a whole shelf full of tomes, should time and inclination not be heavily weighing factors in any writers life. Who knows, maybe in the future? But for now I plan on keeping it light and entertaining, factual and to the point.
Consider it a fun little road trip down this historical highway.
The plan is to give you a general idea of the evolution of audio drama, and bring you links to some of the landmark shows of the past, for your listening pleasure. So strap yourself in, because eventually the DeLorean WILL reach the required 88 mph, even if I have to Thelma and Louise this bad boy off a cliff!
Le Théâtrophone, an 1896 lithograph from the Lès Maître de L’Affiches series by Jules Chéret. Credit: Wikipedia.
So where did it all begin?
It all began with Clément Ader (1841 – 1925) a French inventor and engineer, known mainly for his pioneering achievements in aviation. Before dedicating his life to flying however he studied electrical engineering where he improved Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone just two years after its invention, and then went on to set up a telephone network in Paris 1880.
A year later he presented his recent invention, what would later be dubbed the Théâtrophone, at the Paris World Expo of 1881. He had arranged 80 transmitters across the front of the stage at the Palais Garnier, and broadcast the opera, via telephone wires, to listeners at the expo some 2 km away. What was different than just listening to the opera via the telephone was the fact that listeners received a separate channel for each ear, thus this was the first ever binaural stereo transmission.
Within three years of this initial demonstration, experimental systems had been commissioned in Portugal and Belgium. Within a decade this system had been commercialized in France, there dubbed ‘Lé Théâtrophone’ (The Theatre Phone), and systems were beginning to pop up the length and breadth of Europe.
Word of this amazing technology had reached America, and in 1890 it’s first demonstration had been set up. Some 800 people in the Grand Union Hotel, Saratoga, listened to The Charge of the Light Brigade, conducted nearly 200 miles away at Madison Square Garden.
By the turn of the century, coin-op telephone receivers charging 50 centimes for five minutes listening could be found in hotels, clubs, and cafés all across France. Even home subscribers could enjoy listening to live plays and opera for a small patronage.
Riding the high life of entertainment, it all came crashing down for the Théâtrophone after 42 years, due to the rising popularity of wireless radio broadcasting and the phonograph. The Compagnie Du Théâtrophone stopped broadcasting in 1932. This was by no means the end of audio drama, oh no, this was merely the beginning.
In the next post we take a look at how The Great War put Marconi’s wireless telephone on the fast track into almost every home in the world.