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Elegance of Radio Days With A Global Focus

Several producers around the nation are treating audiences to performances done in the style of old time radio, including new plays, reprise adaptations of old broadcasts and sound and music-enhanced readings of contemporary stage plays and books. In addition, BBC continues to offer a schedule of drama and comedy programming. Radio has been state-supported in the U.K. and so, didn't suffer the attrition experienced in the U.S. when advertisers took their money and ran to TV in the 1950s. On the other hand, the BBC has never achieved the qualities of U.S. programming during the golden age.

Although, the audience of American Public Radio's Prairie Home Companion grew beyond expectations, it is impossible to name a single dramatic program or comedic that is it's equal. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, has gone further in the direction of quality fictional narrative, with a combination of satire and science fiction in a weekly series. Los Angeles Theater Works' program, "The Plays The Thing" has been in syndication for more than 30 years, using some of the top talent from the stage and the film industry. With hundreds of plays published every year, and millions of potential listeners in many radio markets, there should be room for more innovative and exciting new material.

Orson Welles and John Houseman (Mercury Theater of the Air and Campbell Playhouse) were experimenting with the radio medium in the 30s, 40s and early 50s. Five decades ago, this experimentation stopped and while we hear some of the possibilities in mainstream music, we don't hear this in audio theater.

Intimacy vs the Illusion of Verisimilitude.

Shawn Radio Days

"Radio Days", a film made in 1987 by Woody Allen, evoked the ambiance of the years before TV, when listeners tuned radio receivers in ornate wooden cabinets to hear their favorite shows. The radio experience is unique and it's magic does not depend on recreating the milieu of bygone days, the magic is in its intimacy.

1940s Family

SDRT is not attempting to relive the past but rather to reinvigorate the medium with the novelty of the radio experience that people found in an earlier time. Our task is to take radio to a new level of appreciation.


We are building on the foundation laid by imaginative souls like Orson Welles who introduced millions of listeners to great stories, films, plays, symphonic music and jazz, taking his audiences away to exotic realms. The artistic insight of Welles, Houseman and Hermann, Charles Lindbergh, Eleanor Roosevelt and Edward R. Murrow and many others were part of this radio culture. Their broadcasts helped to insulate civilization from cynicism and despair through a global economic depression and WWII, and this gave us the courage to create a new world vision in the face of a threat of nuclear holocaust during the 1950s and 60s.


Sonorous voices are "golden" in radio; as important as the timbre of a singer's voice in opera. Keilor, Welles and Murrow had natural "radio voices". It was Welles' voice that gave him entré to the profession and an opportunity to develop his talent as a writer and director. Keilor has acknowledged this as well. Because of this quality, Welles' radio programs play well today even though the recording quality is not comparable with the fidelity of modern digital technology. SDRT provides opportunities for talented people with good voices.


In the early days, broadcasters relied on actors with well known names from stage and screen roles to attract audiences. Radio brought these celebrities into the listener's home in a more personal way than television can. This quality of personal "presence" is unique to the radio medium and it is under-utilized today.

fuzzy welles

Jack Benny & Groucho Marx"

While High Definition Video and greater audience expectations have raised production costs for television, digital technology has made it easier and less expensive to create anything imaginable in radio theater. A scene on Mars or the Amazon or the bottom of the sea can be created in one continuous recording. The fog horn of the titanic may be a processed recording of a duck call. If the voice is really a duck but it sounds like Marilyn Monroe, the listener imagines Marilyn.

Good voices, a good story and good production combine to guide the imagination of listeners.

People are as impressionable today as when they panicked upon hearing Orson Welles' unnannounced broadcast of "War of The Worlds". This play won't produce the same effect today, but we know that a program with a similar approach could easily produce the same result.

Great voices, exciting stories and "something extra" is needed to compete with the Internet and television for the listener's attention. That "something extra", with the understanding that entertainment must be appropriate to the taste of an audience, is this quality of intimacy that is not exclusive to radio, but natural to it. It is important that we understand, as we speak into our microphones, that our voices may be literally plugged into the ear canals of our listeners, and at the very least, we are alone with them in their cars, living rooms and on sunset walks.

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Copyright for much of the material on these pages belongs to Michael Winn and San Diego Radio Theater® or others.
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