Ten Facts About Radio Theater That Will Blow Your Mind
Radio Theater is near and dear to my heart. Having been involved in it for most of my life, I’ve performed in radio theater, directed many productions and even adapted and written several of my own. I have ten facts about radio theater that will blow your mind.
It’s such a wonderful combination which incorporating one’s skills in reading, speaking, cooperative learning, listening and using one’s imagination. In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to reach students and engage them.
Here are some interesting facts about radio theater scripts. They did mine and I’ve been teaching radio theater for at least twenty-five years. While searching for information to share in this post, I found these fascinating facts through wikipedia.com.
Ten Facts about Radio Theater
Number One–This first fact really surprised me, because honestly I’d never heard it before researching this topic.The Roman playwright Seneca has been claimed as a forerunner of radio drama because his plays were performed by readers as sound plays, not by actors as stage plays; but in this respect Seneca had no significant successors until 20th-century technology made possible the widespread dissemination of sound plays.
Number Two–Again, I thought radio theater did not originate until the early 1900s. However, radio theater has been around for many years. Its roots began back to the 1880s. In 1881 French engineer Clement Ader had filed a patent for ‘improvements of Telephone Equipment in Theatres'”
Number Three–Did you know entire musicals with original casts aired on the radio? It began in February of 1922 airing from the WJZ’s Newark studios.
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First True Radio Drama
Number Four–What is considered the first true radio drama? The credit goes to Wyllis Cooper’s Lights Out radio show which ran from 1934-47. An American writer and producer, Arch Oboler suggested Lights Out was the first true radio drama to make use of the unique qualities of radio. If you’d like to here it, listen here: https://youtu.be/J39pzN1eBm0
Though the series is often remembered solely for its gruesome stories and sound effects, Cooper’s scripts for Lights Out were later recognized as well written and offered innovations seldom heard in early radio dramas, including multiple first-person narrators, stream of consciousness monologues and scripts that contrasted a character’s internal monologue and his spoken words.
Number Five–Probably one of the most famous radio drama broadcasts in the United States is Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds (a 1938 version of H. G. Wells’ novel), which convinced large numbers of listeners that an actual invasion from Mars was taking place. (Thinking of using radio theater as a student engagement tool? Look no further. Check out: The Canterville Ghost and How to Teach Radio Theater
Radio Drama Flops
Number Six–There were several flops, however. Producers of radio drama soon became aware that adapting stage plays for radio did not always work, and that there was a need for plays specifically written for radio, which recognized its potential as a distinct and different medium from the theatre.
Number Seven–Nonetheless, several famous works were created for radio, including Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood (1954), Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall (1957), Harold Pinter’s A Slight Ache (1959), and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (1954).
Number Eight–On certain occasions television series have been revived as radio series. For example, a long-running but no longer popular television series can be continued as a radio series because the reduced production costs make it cost-effective with a much smaller audience.
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When an organization owns both television and radio channels, such as the BBC, the fact that no royalties have to be paid makes this even more attractive. Radio revivals can also use actors reprising their television roles even after decades as they still sound roughly the same. A good example is the Dr. Who show.
Number Nine–The lack of visuals also enable fantastical settings and effects to be used in radio plays where the cost would be prohibitive for movies or television. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first produced as radio drama, and was not adapted for television until much later, when its popularity would ensure an appropriate return for the high cost of the futuristic setting.
Number Ten--You may think radio theater went the wayside once television became popular. I’m glad to report radio theater is alive and well on the internet! I ran on to a wonderful radio show, Wooden Overcoats (Season 1, Episode 1). You simply must listen. Wooden Overcoats
Bonus Fact–Check out Podcast Festivals which are another home to radio dramas. Here’s a calendar for 2021-2022 Podcast Conferences
DramaMommaSpeaks Store Radio Theater Products
In case you are not familiar with my store, I create drama education units and lessons. Some of my most popular lessons are radio theater! I offer lessons in radio theater for grades third to twelve.
This BIG bundle includes a TEN DAY unit, nearly 30 pages in length, which is suitable for middle and high school drama classes and includes:
- a lesson on the history of radio theater
- information about Foley engineers
- three links to video clips of Foleys
- student created sound effect project
- five links to radio play performances (some vintage and some recent)
- a lesson in writing and producing radio commercials
- links to four commercials and two acting exercises focused on sound effects
- procedure plan to follow throughout the unit
- teacher’s questions–what I say and how I say it!
- a sound effects quiz
- a student group example of a radio commercial
- trivia about radio theater stars
- a page demonstrating how to direct a radio play
- a floor plan for blocking and an explanation of the floor plan
- a page advising what certain stage directions mean which are specific to radio plays
- a page with synopses of three radio play adaptations
The radio play products include:
- note for the teacher/director
- brief biographies on the author of the books or stories– H.G. Welles, William Clark Russell, Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde
- radio play, including sound and music cues
- The Frozen Pirate contains an original song reminiscent of a sea shanty of the time period & sound byte
These plays are royalty free! Perform them for the school, a parent open house or the end of the semester. You can spend one day studying radio theater or several days. Either way, they are ready to go–just copy and start in on the fun!
My most popular radio theater unit is my play, Bow Wow Blues.
Check out my post where I give my thoughts about studying different cultures through drama integration: 370 Million Indigenous People Want You to Know About Their Cultures
Which of the ten facts shocked you the most? I’d love to know. Contact me at DhcBaldwin@gmail.com or DeborahBaldwin.net and share your thoughts with me.
Until next time.