The History of Audio Drama

The History of Audio Drama 3

by Dōhai

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

In the last post, we saw how Marconi’s ‘Radio Telephone’ made the Théâtrophone obsolete, how it dazzled the United States with opera and musical comedies, and how radio stations were beginning to pop up all across America to get involved in this new medium.

One such station was WGY, Schenectady NY: they started broadcasting in February of 1922. According to historians they were the first station to have a troupe of actors dedicated to radio plays, and were transmitting full length stage plays every week, complete with music, and sound effects within a few months of opening. Their first play, ‘The Wolf’ by Eugene Walter, a complete three act play with musical interludes between acts, aired August 3rd 1922.

Another of the first of the major players was Cincinnati’s WLW who, within months of getting a license, were broadcasting one off plays and excerpts from longer works. On November 9th 1922, they ran their first one act play: ‘A Fan and Two Candlesticks’ by Mary MacMillan.

Within a year of these two starting up a score of new radio stations were also broadcasting audio dramas all across the states, and WGY and WLW were holding competitions, inviting listeners to write their own scripts to be performed on the radio.

recording a radio play

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It wasn’t long before Europe too was reveling in this new found medium of entertainment, and on January 15th 1924, the BBC presented its first ever written-for-radio play: ‘Danger’ was written by Richard Hughes in one night.

A play about a group of people trapped in a coal mine, Richard recalled writing it with major sound effects in mind. Sound effects which, come recording time, he had no clue how to create.

They enlisted the help of the sound effects man from the local cinema, and the stars of the show were made to wear buckets on their heads to create the echo effect of being in a mine. But the climax of the play was to be an explosion, and they were still a little stuck as “even popping a paper bag would have blown all the fuses”.

Reporters and critics set up in the press room during recording were very impressed, and they never found out that Hughes had staged a real explosion in the room next door.

recording a radio play

​​

On the other side of the channel, ‘Maremoto’ (Seaquake), a realistic account of a sinking ship due to be aired in France on October 23rd 1924, was banned from French radio until 1937 because the government feared the SOS message would be mistaken for a genuine distress call.

But of course, the saga of this new medium and its heightened sense of realism doesn’t end there! Next time on #THoAD, we take a look at probably the most famous radio drama the world has ever known ‘The War of the Worlds’ its creator Orson Welles, and the alleged controversy surrounding it.

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