What can a seemingly archaic medium say to a modern audience?
Even for those who didn’t grow up during radio’s golden era, mention radio drama to most Americans and it culls up the image of a family huddled around the radio anxiously on a Saturday night waiting for a program to come on. Most are familiar with the furor over War of the Worlds, and can bring names like “The Shadow” and “The Green Hornet” to the tips of their tongues. These same people are astonished to learn that Orson Welles started (and may have produced his best work!) in radio, and that “The Lone Ranger” existed long before its television debut. With a new generation that has known radio only as a sad jukebox, occasional news source, and constant sales hawker, the legacy of the Golden Age of Radio would seem slipping from obscurity into oblivion. What can audio alone achieve that audio and video cannot?
For the growing number of Old-Time Radio enthusiasts and modern producers, that very question is an absurd one. Audio is accessible, cheap, and provocative. You can be on a Carribbean island or in the middle of Omaha Beach of D-Day with the use of a couple choice effects, and propel the listener through a story even if the actor looks nothing like the character his voice conjures. There is no story too small or large for radio, and if you think the interest in radio drama is just nostalgia for a bygone era, ask BBC4 what they think.
It’s true, however, that the “Golden Age of Radio,” the period between the 30s to 50s (more or less) that radio was America’s premier form of entertainment, is over. The sources of entertainment today are infinitely more varied, sophisticated, and available. The business model of commercial radio, though certainly threatened by things like satellite radio and digital music stores, does not seem likely to return to the paradigm of old any time in the future. Nor does it look likely that ABC, NBC, or CBS will start funding radio dramas again. Yet with the growing availability of low-cost, professional quality equipment and the internet, the world is an oyster for those independent of spirit and mind who aspire to create their own work for a world stage.
While Britain and Canada have radio dramas commissioned by their publicly-funded broadcasting companies, in America the original audio drama produced is by small troupes and production houses scattered across the country (for a list of some of these, visit the Radio Drama Links page). A reflection of the great beauty of America’s fragmented spirit, these groups produce programming as original as it is diverse.
What differentiates FinalRune Productions from other audio theatre groups is a commitment to producing works of writers of limited renown and exceptional caliber, with the ambition of spurring interest in radio drama in new audiences. In addition, FinalRune Productions is a for-profit business model with the intention of generating a sustainable revenue through a subscriber base, supplemented by sales through online audiobook stores, brick and mortar stores, and playback on terrestrial and satellite radio stations.
The bet I’m staking this whole vision on is that today’s media consumers are looking for “the next big thing,” and that thing could be audio. While big-budget, low-substance Hollywood movies are great and all, audio can only succeed with stories pared down to the bones. While sophistication is not always a word associated with American media consumers, I’m banking that there’s at least some out there who want a compelling story that says something. That moves them. That terrifies them. That makes them feel like they’ve just been somewhere extraordinary.
And audio theater can provide this–and so much more.