Sound stories

Audio drama and adaptation

Authored by: J. H. Richard

The Routledge Companion To Adaptation

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138915404
eBook ISBN: 9781315690254
Adobe ISBN:


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From the first wax cylinders through to digital downloads, from network output captured on crystal sets through to Digital Audio Broadcasting, audio listeners have consumed culture entirely mediated by technology. These audiences have enjoyed music on vinyl records, transistor radios, or iPods, and in so doing have determined the evolution of music, sharing and propagating its popularity. Audiences, however, have also used their audio technology to listen to the spoken word. Early broadcasters realised the potential of radio technology to disseminate news and sports for its listeners to consume in immediacy and simultaneity. The pleasures of radio would subsequently encompass book readings, which would evolve into ‘drama.’ Although it is one of the most neglected fields of performance culture, throughout its history audio drama has been prolific and impactful. Early in the advent of broadcasting, radio drama proved itself to be enormously flexible, creating different formats of drama, from serialisations to standalone works, as well as inventing genres such as the soap opera and developing distinctive forums for science fiction, fantasy, whodunits, and other popular narratives. In the twentieth century, radio featured adaptations of fiction which were as (in)famous as Mercury Theatre on the Air’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast (1938) and as monumental as the BBC’s adaptation of the complete Sherlock Holmes (1989–98). In the twenty-first century, the internet has created a new era of audio drama: there has never been a more fluid range of options through which we can consume network or independent radio, and, in addition to this, there are websites streaming archival materials as well as podcasts of experimental or amateur work. In short, with a plethora of available works from past and present, there has never been a richer time to be a ‘listener.’

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