I write a lot about BBC radio drama because I have to. Like it or not, the BBC are the largest producer of audio drama in English. Their productions set a certain kind of standard and though we Americans pride ourselves on our innovation and individuality and independence and blah blah blah, reality speaks otherwise. American radio drama depends on the BBC for its inspiration as surely as American politicians depend upon foreign lobbyists for their livelihood.
What Americans do very well with audio drama is not innovation but rather conservation. Seattle’s own Radio Theater Channel has been broadcasting for the past year now in a manner very much intended to recreate the sound of American radio from its halcyon days. Their eight-hour programming cycle begins every day at 9:00 pm PST, repeating two times throughout the day until the next cycle of new programs begins. Often these programs are arranged thematically: Mystery Mondays, Detective Tuesdays, Western Wednesdays, Drama Thursdays, Funny Fridays and such. As a concession to the Internet era, Radio Theater Channel also offers podcasts for download through Podbean or from iTunes.
Friday the Radio Theater Channel folks announced their latest venture: the Radio Book Channel. The Radio Book Channel offers listeners a fair assortment of audiobooks and literary adaptations from past and present, but also includes various podcasts from around the country. So far, I have seen pieces from Icebox Radio Theater as well as Seattle’s own 19 Nocturne Boulevard. The selection of audiobooks and podcasts cuts across genres. Nightmare Abbey rests comfortably alongside Sherlock Homes adventures and Don Quixote.
What strikes me most is that the range of the Radio Book Channel is even broader than the Radio Theater Channel. The Radio Theater Channel does feature new material along with the expected antiquarian offerings but in the main it also tends to adhere to the principles of its program supplier, American Radio Theater. From the ART website:
We write, and present new radio plays, using traditional radio production techniques as exemplified by radio networks in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
In an effort to remain close to the roots of OTR we frequently invite members of our extended family of Old Time Radio veterans to participate in our productions. These individuals bring with them skills, techniques, experiences and perspectives unique to this art form.
Through public education, participation, performance, and scholarship we strive to create a new tradition of audio theater while staying true to the roots of Radio Theater’s past.
Such principles are noble enough, but inherently backward-looking. “True to the roots of Radio Theater’s past” is a phrase that conceals more than it reveals. Fortunately, the Radio Book Channel thus far looks to be a much more diverse venture, a little more like the mixed programming of BBC Radio 4 Extra. This is a good thing, and well-needed.
The folks at Radio Theater Channel have done very well with their programming so far. I have no doubt that the Radio Book Channel will be at least as excellently tended, if not even better. This is a very welcome edition to the Seattle audio world. With all the incredible talent currently working in audio drama here–Imagination Theater, Sandbox Radio, Seattle Radio Theatre, 19 Nocturne Boulevard, and Sable Jak’s Sebastian T. Sweet Productions–I can afford to be optimistic about the state of audio drama. I am sure the folks here in my hometown will show the rest of America how it is done.