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Audio Drama Vs Radio Drama

Australian radio is strong and viable. I vaguely remember a programme that compared it to American radio and showed that because of social, legislative and commercial factors it was stronger than its American counterpart. Australian radio is one of the last bastions of the radio play, having weathered the face of competition from TV, so that over here we are in the enviable position whereby the ABC is not only buying and broadcasting radio drama but encouraging and nurturing it.

So does this mean that the internet-based audio dramas that I rant about - not the "tribute shows" that use copyrighted material of course but the original shows - could have a market here? Well, yes as long as the writer and producer was aware of the inherent differences between the two media.

Audio drama, by its very nature, is a disembodied medium - they don't call it "the cinema of the mind" for nothing - and the finished product that our audience gets is sound, a drama that they experience only by listening to it. What difference does it make whether the sound that they hear comes from a radio, computer speakers, iPod earphones? Actually quite a lot, just as the entertainment experience of TV is different from going to the movies or theatre and this needs to be considered by the writer and producer.

Radio for example must cater to a broader audience, which is why genre subjects don't seem to do well, no matter how dedicated a fan-following they have. Radio also has an immediacy about it, in that it is "the arrow spent". Once it has been broadcast the listener can't re-wind radio to try to catch something a second time because they didn't hear it properly or understand it fully the first time. Of course the ABC usually has its programs available online later but that begs the question doesn't it? If the listener gets lost during the production, they won't make the effort to get the mp3 download so that they can listen to it again, they'll just switch off.

This means that there has to be absolute clarity in the dialog and its delivery, with no long and convoluted monologues or scenes with half-a-dozen characters chattering at odds with each other. In fact large casts are a drawback in general since, unless they are individually memorable, the listener will become confused by the role of each.

Your character's actions need to be telegraphed to the listener in a way that makes them easy to visualise. I don't mean you have to descend to "This gun that I have in my right hand is loaded" but there are things, like panning, that might come across well on stereo earphones that are lost on a mono' radio.

I'm not saying that one is better than the other, as an entertainment medium each has its niche. Downloadable, syndicated files such as podcast audio drama can be paused, rewound and listened to as many times as you like at your convenience. However you need to find them, download them and play them - conscious steps that podcasting helps but does not eliminate. Broadcast radio is mass-media, reaching a big audience that would not normally come looking for your work and for listeners is much more convenient and spontaneous - you just switch it on station surf until you hit something you like and listen.

Is there a compromise between the two? Of course - internet radio! These are internet websites that stream programmes on a set schedule so that you can log onto them and listen to what comes up. This would be much more spontaneous than choosing something and downloading it yourself, widening your listening experience. I wonder how affordable it is to listen to streamed audio dramas on an internet enabled mobile phone such as the iPhone using Tuner?


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