Just as video did not kill the radio star, TV did not kill the radio drama. Not completely at least. The first play written specifically for radio was the British show, A Comedy of Danger which aired for the first time in January of 1924. In America, it is believed that the first drama to air over the radio was The Wolf also released in 1924.
Soon, families would gather ‘round the radio for tales of comedy, mysteries and superheroes. When television became more commonplace, various radio shows transitioned to TV including The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Dragnet and The Lone Ranger. Eventually, the era of radio theater was over. Mostly.
There have been many radio dramas produced over the years keeping the art alive, and yet many of them remain fairly hidden from masses. Some examples inlcude:
- Jim French Productions: In 1948, Seattle radio announcer Jim French began writing radio shows under such names as the KIRO Mystery Playhouse and Imagination Theatre which were described as “movies for your mind.” While he passed away in 2017, his legacy lives on with show continuing to air over the radio as well as online.
- CBS Radio Mystery Theater: In 1974, CBS Radio presented an anthology of radio dramas that aired on weekends coast to coast until 1982.
- Adventures in Odyssey: In 1987, Focus on the Family began airing this evangelical Christian radio drama for children. About 900 episodes have been produced and are still heard today.
- The Twilight Zone: Sometime in the 2000’s, original episodes of TV’s The Twilight Zone were re-written for a radio audience. 176 episodes were produced and aired.
In recent years, this story-telling method has turned to podcasting. One of the newest adventures, SOLAR began airing on March 29 and is already getting good reviews. It keeps climbing high on the podcast charts too. It debuted as #1 on Amazon Music and #16 in science fiction.
The 12-epsiode scripted series tells the first-hand accounts of crew members who have been stranded on separate parts of their spacecraft for over 500 days. These crew members must fight for survival following a disaster onboard the ill-fated Aethon, a manned solar research probe sent to explore distortion around the sun. As painful memories and technological challenges collide, the crew must work together to keep their hope alive in the face of growing darkness.
SOLAR is no small project and it not lacking in talent. Two years in the making, it stars Stephanie Beatriz, Alan Cumming, Helen Hunt and Jonathan Bangs. It is the first-ever Dolby Atmos fully staged audio experience which describes each episode as “creating a groundbreaking, lifelike, cinematic journey at the edge of sonic art.”
The show is meant to be experienced with headphones and it isn’t one that you want playing in the background. You’re going to want to give it your whole attention. Go ahead. Close your eyes and picture what you are hearing. The sounds come at you in 360-degree action and CurtoCo Media, which produces the show, says the SOLAR is the future of 3D audio and cinematic experiences.
“We wanted SOLAR to be a true-to-life storytelling experience; each episode contains close to one thousand tracks of ambisonic sound,” says CJ Drummler, SOLAR’s Lead Sound Designer. “Every room of the spaceship has specific dimensions to provide lifelike immersion. We believe SOLAR will ignite the listener’s imagination, which allows them to feel and see the story in their mind, creating pictures they will never forget.”
And they’re right. The show is amazing and despite the technological advances, there is a simpleness to it. It’s storytelling at its best. SOLAR isn’t a simple story. It’s complicated but in a good way. Different personalities are represented and the storyline bounces back and fourth giving an added mystery to the story. It’s thrilling but there’s some humor here too. Those who have missed seeing Helen Hunt on TV will appreciate hearing her voice, and sarcasm, once again, but all of the players here are great.
New episodes of SOLAR are being dropped each week and can be heard wherever you hear podcasts.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.