July 12, 2022
It’s July and we’re now deep into summer. This is a good time for that classic tradition—the American road trip! I still fondly remember the days when my family would pack everything into our grey, full-sized van, and then set out to explore the states of the Midwest.
In those days, our van didn’t even have a tape deck, so we had to bring our portable cassette players in order to have in-drive entertainment. It still amazes me that now you can watch a movie right in your car. Audiobooks are also a popular way to pass the time during long hours on the road.
However, there is another option that many don’t think about: the radio play.
Now, some may be confused about what a radio play is…especially those who have never lived in a world without television. Hard as it is now to imagine, before that magic box arrived, people were reliant on the radio to entertain them. And the radio didn’t just play music.
Programs were created and performed live on air. Some of the most popular were serials like soap operas. Some were variety shows. Some would be one-off plays. Drama, comedy, science fiction—pretty much every genre you could imagine has at some point had a production on radio.
So, what makes a radio play different from an audiobook? Well, an audiobook is the exact presentation of the book—word for word. While a narrator can add a lot of nuance and color to perform the words, they stick to the exact story as written by the author.
A radio play can be its own interpretation of a work. An original script is often created, and usually there will be multiple actors instead of one narrator. And then you have the wonderful sound effects that can set the mood and tone of the piece. This elevates the show from a recitation of words to a true performance.
Arguably, the most famous radio play is Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds. It was said that this tale of alien invasion, presented in the form of news reports, was so realistic that many actually thought the Earth was being invaded. Of course, the number of people who were fooled has been exaggerated over the years, but just think how convincing that presentation must have been to elicit such a response.
There are many wonderful radio plays available on the shelves here at Mid-Continent Public Library. There are classic productions of The Twilight Zone, Hopalong Cassidy, and Our Miss Brooks. And the BBC Radio Collection has content that includes everything from Shakespeare and Agatha Christie to new dramatized versions of Doctor Who.
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