The history of radio drama I have omitted what I have discovered in my research about the history of US radio drama and instead have focused on radio drama in the UK. The first radio plays? On the 17th October 1922, at a research station near Chelmsford in Essex, an experiment took place; it is thought that this experiment was the first radio play to be transmitted. Captain P. Eckersley, who was the BBC’s first chief engineer, described it in The Power behind the Microphone (1942): ! We sat around a kitchen table in the middle of a wooden hut, with the shelves and benches packed with prosaic apparatus, and said our passionate lines into the lip our our separate microphones... ! It was all rather fun. Doubtless at times I was horribly facetious, but I did try to be friendly and talk with, rather than at, my listeners... After the experiment that Eckersley was involved in, it is now generally excepted that the first radio play to be transmitted, A Comedy of Danger, was on 15th January 1924. The Listener magazine, in 1954, described it by saying that ‘radio drama had emitted its first, faint, infant wail’. A comedy of Danger in 1924 was the first play to be written especially for radio that was aired, however there were extracts of Shakespeare's plays that were broadcast before then in 1923. Tyrone Guthrie had written plays by 1930 for the BBC, such as Matrimonial News and The Flowers Are Not for You to Pick. Guthrie’s plays also aired in America in 1931. The 1930s - 1960s: Golden age The 1930s - 1960s, the era before most families owned a TV set, was the golden age for radio dramas where families would gather around ‘the
wirelessâ€™ for entertainment. The most famous radio play ever produced was The War of the Worlds in 1938 by H. G. Hells which convinced many listeners that an invasion from Mars was actually taking place. In the UK, another popular show was The Goon Show, running from 1951 - 1960 on the BBC Home Service. The Goon Show is an example of a comedy drama using satire to create humour, starring Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. The show become renowned for its sound effects, some of which were produced by the early BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and, in that sense, it was revolutionary. The Beatles and Monty Python claim it as some of their influences, showing the impact on culture that radio drama had in its golden age. 1960 - present day: Decline After the golden age of radio drama in the 1930s - 1960s, the medium started to decline post-1960 when more families started to buy TV sets and, over time, more TV channels were launched to create more choice - more choice meant more competition for radio dramas. Radio plays main popular around the world even though they are not as popular as they use to be in countries like Britain and the USA. Radio dramas are cheap to produce and the often offer opportunities to new writers. Radio dramas are popular in 'third world' countries where people can afford a cheap radio. They are also very popular in Germany since there are very few remaining theatres in Germany after the bombings in World War II. On the BBC there are two ongoing radio soap operas: The Archers (more about that below) and Silver Street on the Asian Network. BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast new and repeat classic dramas. There are, however, very few radio dramas broadcast in the commercial radio sector. Since the 'golden age' of radio drama and its subsequent decline, radio drama has become a 'side-by-side' format where radio dramas exist alongside TV programmes, books or maybe even both. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was originally broadcast as a radio series in 1978 and became a film later on. Nowadays radio plays are usually to accompany a film or book, not the other way round.
One important development to consider throughout the 2000s is podcasts, small audio files which can be downloaded to MP3 players or Computers. The podcast format is suitable for more than drama - it can include news and talk, for example - but it has a lot of potential for creating original drama. Not only can anyone with the knowledge and equipment podcast, but radio stations can podcast their radio dramas too to bring them to a fresh audience. The Archers The Archers is a long-running British radio drama which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and is set in a fictional rural village called Ambridge. The Archers, since its first official episode on 1st January 1951, has broadcast 16,000 episodes, making it now the longest soap opera in any format anywhere in the world. A pilot series, created by Godfrey Baseley, was first broadcast on 29th May 1950. The pilot series was six episodes in that week, broadcast to the Midlands on the BBC’s Regional Home Service. After the pilot episodes the previous year, the first regular episode of The Archers was broadcast on 1st January 1951, at first on the BBC Light Programme, later on the BBC Home Service (now BBC Radio 4). Originally, The Archers was to disseminate information to farmers in the years after World War II when rationing and food shortages were still an issue. The BBC worked alongside the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to produce the show. At the point of it being most popular, it was estimated that 60% of people in Britain listen to The Archers. In more recent history, it moved from being five 15-minute long episodes per week, to six 12 1/2 minute episodes a week in 1998. Since 2007, the drama has been available as a downloadable podcast with an extra ‘omnibus’ podcast.