Thursday, April 3, 2008

Q&A: Frederick Greenhalgh of Radio Drama Revival!

I caught up with Frederick Greenhalgh of Radio Drama Revival!, a podcast and blog that highlights contemporary radio drama, to ask him a few questions about the future of the audio drama medium. He provided a unique insight that's well worth reading.

What inspired you to create a radio drama podcast?

I was inspired to create the podcast because I was producing work and found few places to air it. An opening for a half-hour slot opened up at my local community station and I sprang on it, and Radio Drama Revival was born... even if I had no real idea where it was going or where I'd come up with content. However, the audio drama community was kind to me, and now the show just keeps on growing organically. From the get-go I knew I wanted it to be more than just a terrestrial radio station show and it's cool to see the synergy between the web presence of the show and its radio roots.

Do you see a resurgence in the audio storytelling medium thanks to new media tools like podcasts and web streaming?

Podcasting, streaming, cheap mics, digital editing, all that has made it easier for everyone to produce (from garage bands to indie filmmakers). So it's no surprise that audio drama should be riding this wave as well, especially since podcasting is so well suited for audio drama. Of course, like all the would-be filmmakers on YouTube, this has spawned a whole lot of drama that is not, nor is it intending to me, "the next Steven Spielberg." Overall I think the diversity of voices is great, though it's sometimes disappointing to see a lack of really compelling material out there, especially when you hear how good it CAN be.

Why do you suppose the radio drama medium continued to thrive in the United Kingdom while largely dying off in the United States?

There's no "do you suppose" to this question -- there's a long, researchable story about how US corporations basically assassinated radio drama and the BBC ended up taking up the reins on an art form we created and kept it alive. There are many other histories in other nations, too. Basically a decision was made -- driven by some weird amalgamy of corporate interests, technology, and consumer choice -- to ditch radio stories for TV stories rather than keep radio and TV side-by-side, and many of the greatest of radio's golden age would never cross the dangerous divide. The vacuum created by Golden Age radio's absence was filled by what would ultimately become the commercial radio that is so virulently prolific today (and, by the grace of god, finally dying). The essential difference between the US and the UK is that in Britain the media is a public service, and in America, well...

Do you mostly produce your own shows or broadcast others?

I produce 3-4 shows of my own a year and broadcast others during the rest. It's a great opportunity for networking with other producers, hearing what's out there, and sharing the best of the best... or the strangest of the strangest.

Since radio drama hasn't been popular in the US for over 50 years, how were you first exposed to the medium?

A buddy of mine in college said "Hey, let's make a radio drama." We had a lot of fun, and while I'll probably never want to hear that first piece ever again, it gave me a thirst for more. I turned my senior thesis into a story about a young kid who heads to New Orleans, a story immersed in myth, history, weirdness and sound... along the way I learned a lot about production, and even more about the art.

Years ago, NPR produced a radio adaptation of Star Wars. Could you see production of similiar adaptations through new media?

Gosh, it'd be nice. But from what I know of the history, "Star Wars" was a product of a NPR of a different time. Now I get a sense that the programming minds behind the organization are conservative -- not as in right-wing, but as in cautious about trying anything too different with the tried and true NPR sound. Which is really a damn shame, because it's a Catch 22. Listeners won't tune in to radio drama because they don't know what it is. Listeners don't know what it is because nobody plays it. And the vicious cycle only continues. With so many bombs and political upheavals in the world, it's only a miniature tragedy, but it's a damn shame nonetheless. If anything's to happen with radio drama in this country, its in the hands of the independents -- none of whom have time, money or millions of listeners, but the web at least gives us a little more of an ice cube's hope in hell.

I won't get into it too much here, but the best hope of audio drama's revival, in my mind, is to tap into audiences from the audiobook world, and to bring in top, name authors, and maybe even known voices to the productions. Once listeners hear great audio drama, I'm convinced they'll want to hear more. But getting the money and marketing behind such a thing is an astonishingly huge task.

But until that day, I'll keep on beating the drum.

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