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After all these years, I can still remember my father’s reaction when we previewed The Shadow in 1994. We sat around as a family and watched TV. The preview was very ’90s, complete with the ubiquitous Mr. Moviefone narrator. At the very end of the preview he asked about the typical montage of action scenes: “Who knows what evil lurks in people’s hearts?” Without missing a beat, my father replied excitedly: “The shadow knows!”

This film had sparked a fond memory of something from his childhood. Now don’t feel bad if you can’t remember the trailer or the movie. I saw it and don’t even remember what happened. It was a visual retelling of the radio series of the same name from the golden age of radio. Most people might think of the decades between the 1920s and 1930s when they hear this term. However, radio plays were popular until the 1950s. Radio was used to convey information as well as entertainment. This included quiz shows, game productions, and other types of shows that have since moved on to television.

Before discarding the idea that this type of medium is subpar by today’s standards, recall the 1938 production of War of the Worlds narrated by Orson Welles. This was so convincingly delivered by Welles that some of the public reportedly believed that an alien invasion was indeed occurring. While this has been controversial since then, the fact that this urban legend is still mentioned almost a century later is testament to the power of audio storytelling.

A brief history of the radio

In its heyday, radio was one of the more affordable options for entertainment at the time. A one-time purchase of a radio gave access to news programs, comedy lessons, children’s programs, and the like. Tickets for films, theater or opera could be less affordable and were only intended for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A radio opened up the possibility of hours of entertainment.

It also gave families the opportunity to gather to listen to shows together. While the world may be a bit busier and crazier today, there is still a desire to gather together as a household and enjoy quality time together. These stories gave yesterday’s families this opportunity. They would gather to hear the latest edition.

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As with television shows these days, radio series had advertising sponsors who gave them a budget to work. The term “soap opera” was coined because these shows were originally sponsored by laundry and dishwashing companies. There were several ways that this advertisement could be done. One option was bookends announcements when the shows opened and closed. Another reason was commercial breaks halfway through.

There were also promotional events for the sponsors. Young listeners would receive these decoder rings and other trinkets, such as badges, by sending in box-tops or proof of purchase of certain brands of grain. It was a win for everyone. The audience kept buying the product – or in the case of children, asking their parents to do so – and the shows kept coming back on.

I’m sure we all remember the infamous “Make sure you drink your Ovaltine” scene from A Christmas Story. After waiting for weeks, Ralphie received his decoder ring in the mail. He hurried to decipher the super-secret message, which ended up being an advertisement. There was a lot of disappointment on both sides of the screen.

The radio remained popular until the 1950s when televisions were introduced. This ended the rule of the radio. Most households attracted this for their news and entertainment. Radio was still around, but it was mainly used for music and news. All other types of entertainment had moved to television, and that was where they seemed to stay forever.

Until now.

The new era


In recent years, audio storytelling has increased again through a certain type of podcast. The main focus is on remembering that golden age of radio, but you no longer have to gather around a radio to listen. Episodes are always available on your computer or phone. If you are patient, you can even wait and have multiple episodes run at the same time. This sudden outbreak may make some wonder, why now?

First, there’s the fact that everything is audio, so not as expensive as a movie. They are the voice actors in a recording study, so no set pieces or locations are required. Everyday objects enable the practical implementation of sound effects. Creators have more options here than with a movie because they can gather loved ones to tell their story.

Podcasts originally dealt with specific topics based on the interests of their respective hosts. It didn’t take long before this was expanded to include radio plays. From there it opened up a world of opportunities for all kinds of innovative storytelling. They have secrets like Limetown. There are space operas like Wolf 359. There is the ever-popular Welcome to Nightvale, about the strangest city you never want to visit. The possibilities were and are endless.

Since everything is auditory, your imagination must have a huge impact on how deeply the story affects you. There are no visual cues; You have to come up with what to see for yourself. It’s a completely immersive experience. As a personal example, I’ve mostly heard Wolf 359 at work. There were many moments during this listening where I stopped working with bated breath and waited to see what would come next. It was so haunting and so good.

Audio books

Audiobooks have always been an option. However, they weren’t always the best. Most of the time you only had one narrator; There was very rarely a duo. There was no background music or ambient noise, so only one person read to you at a time for a certain number of hours. And they didn’t always put a lot of emotion into it. So it might be boring for lack of a better word. Speaking in person, there is no way I would have made it through Dune if I hadn’t listened to the full cast.

A lot of audiobooks these days are full, like Alyssa Cole’s The AI ​​Who Loved Me. This opens up a whole new world. Having an entire cast tell you a story becomes a whole new experience. It feels like you’re watching a production in a theater or even parking in front of your TV. This opens up the possibility of an even more immersive listening experience, especially with newer audiobooks that add sound effects and music.

The future of audio storytelling

Storytelling has always been part of our society and is deeply rooted to this day. Even in the days of ancient civilizations, bards told stories to the crowds. This is how the Iliad and the Odyssey became part of our literary world. Parents read to their children. People listen to audiobooks. There is something that will always be exciting when you read it.

I never have a feeling that the printed novel will ever really go away. Books are tangible and people like tangible things. However, as this corner of the book world evolves, audio storytelling will continue to grow. Very soon, full casts could become the norm for audiobooks, with individual narrators dedicated only to memoirs. We could see a return to radio or, in this version, internet series. And that’s what I’m here for. As long as there is an audience there will be a need to tell audio stories.