Listening Out Loud
Thursday, May 05, 2011 - 11:08 AM
About blogging—I don’t. To me this word suggests an action taken by something hairy with a club.
Think of me as a diarist, or an old-fashioned essayist, musing on that space that is somewhere between public and private, without any particular agenda. The Charles Lamb of the audio set.
Oh, wait. I do have an agenda. The mission of this site is to re-integrate radio and audio theatre into the American cultural landscape, so my thoughts will bend a little in that direction.
Let’s start with a little personal history. I came to New York City from the UK in the late 1970s, moved from a culture where radio drama was a robust staple to one in which it was a picturesque novelty or the object of nostalgic reverence. Say “radio drama” in England, and people are likely to think of Stoppard, or Pinter, or any one of dozens of contemporary playwrights who contribute to BBC programming. Mention it here, and your listener (depending upon age) might dredge up a memory of The Shadow, or cite the ubiquitous War of the Worlds—both showpieces of radio’s “Golden Age.”
I came to radio drama here a bit sideways. My first encounter with the American public radio system, the only source of arts programming as such, was humbling: I was completely taken in by A Prairie Home Companion, which seemed to me just the sort of wholesome thing one might expect from the American heartland. It took several iterations of “Powder Milk Biscuits help shy people get up and do what has to be done” to recognize Keillor’s genial pastiche for what it was.
Then, I started to go to a restaurant whose owners played old-time radio shows. Along with other like-minded patrons, we determined that we might be able to contrive something a little more modern, and began to create our own audio dramas for our own amusement. Eventually, we refined the product (early efforts were good hearted but risible) to the point where we sold some programming to NPR, and from that particular rabbit hole I slide into the Wonderland of public radio, where here and there, other white rabbits would occasionally appear with drama series. Still, I found myself wondering why more American playwrights weren’t drawn to this likeable form, which was relatively inexpensive and offered so much scope for the imagination: “Let us live for the beauty of our own reality,” says Lamb. (See, I knew he’d be helpful.) To be continued.