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Radio Drama Contextual Study

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Radio Drama Background

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Radio drama is the unique artistic form that accumulates acoustic means of expression, stimulating target listener’s imagination and create special atmosphere of a play. However, genres and types of radio drama influence different peculiarities of radio play. Therefore, in order to examine radio drama, it is important to analyze dynamics of radio drama development.   

Since 1924, radio drama broadcasting became available. However, the first telephone broadcasting of a play happened in 1881. Using special equipment, opera was transmitted via telephone. Moreover, British Broadcasting Corporation was founded in 1922, and began radio translation. Radio shows offered opportunities for advertisement: on air translation was cheap and widespread. Therefore, this form of art was perspective and profitable (Crook, 1999, p.23).

“The Archers”, radio drama that appeared to be the longest radio soap in the world, began in 1951. Radio translation faced several milestones in the history. For example, characters depicted by Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll appealed to the issue of racism, while “Women’s Hours” that appeared on air in 1945 was one of the first plays devoted to feminism.

In the middle of 20th century, popular radio stations broadcasted plays concentrated on the problems of World War II, spreading information about the war. However, popularity of TV broadcasting has merely influenced on radio audience. Television movies and soap operas were preferred. Nowadays technological progress reveals new forms of entertainment. However, the uniqueness of radio broadcasting provides listeners’ interest to the radio play (Crook, 1999, p.30).

Analyzing stylistics of radio play, Beck (1997, p.45) suggests such fundamental types of radio play as drama and comedy with subdivisions. Beck differentiates various genres of radio drama, including adventures, such as spy thriller, survival story and western. Radio plays, written in these genres contain various descriptive elements. Creating mysterious atmosphere, authors appeal to listeners’ emotions. Side sounds, such as “Strong Winds” (Extreme Love, 1) emphasize participation effect, influencing listeners’ imagination.    

Antisocial genre of radio drama such as film noir and criminal drama depend on an actor’s presentation of a characters’ image through his or her voice, mood and manner of speaking. These peculiarities influence listeners’ perception of a character. Plays written in genres, including fantasy, horror and science fiction are difficult to understand without side effects and proper narrative style (Beck, 1997, p.67).

Adaptation, documentary, religious are often presented as a narration with expressive dialogues and usually depends on writer’s tips. Such unusual genres as improvisation and experimental (wordless, musical) radio play influence listeners’ imagination trough their unique form. Improvisation might recall simple radio broadcasting. However, radio improvisation is based on developed characters and unpredictable improvised dialogs are still limited by stylistic peculiarities (Drakakis, 1999, p.87).

Experimental wordless radio plays appeal to subjective perception of each listener. Each recipient creates perceived images individually, interpreting music and effects using their unlimited imagination.

Radio comedy differs from comedy, written as a screenplay, because of the absence of visual elements, such as pantomime or situational jokes. Therefore, acoustic instruments actualize important functions of visual jokes. Among radio comedy genres, Beck (1997, p.97) distinguishes romantic comedy, soap comedy, domestic comedy and comedy-serious. Domestic and serious comedies are usually written with various monologues, including reappraisal of values. Women are often targeted listeners of these genres of radio comedy. Therefore, topics and characters are developed in accordance with this peculiarity. Protagonists of these comedies are mainly women.

The irony of situation is more important for writing romantic and soap radio comedy. Descriptive jokes, in which characters express their point of view on funny occasions and judge other people, are perceived properly in video plays, where characters could be understood from the objective point of view, “Yes, I am pregnant and I was going to jump with parachute” (Extreme Love, 3). In radio drama, ideas of the author mix with characters’ ideas, might sound too arrogant and would not effect properly.   

Long dialogues with sarcastic humor are tricky for radio dramas. It is important to remember that one of the most important peculiarities of this format of play is the absence of image. Long dialogues, where characters use irony or fight could confuse the listener. Therefore, it is important to avoid long pieces of uninformative utterances of characters.

Crook (1999, p.185) suggests paying special attention to character’s reappraisal of values. The main hero might feel ashamed or betrayed. However, during the certain inner conflict, he or she would realize mistakes, making important assumptions, “I was afraid to jump, I am sorry. I should have told you” (Extreme Love, 6). The character eventually examines his or her weak spots.

Radio drama scriptwriters usually use narrative and descriptive elements. The reader, narrator is the main actor of the play (Drakakis, 1997, p.84). Means of expression used in radio drama are sounding speech, music, noise. Therefore, great importance is attached to the sound and voice characteristics of the image, creating acoustic noise of the air, wind, gun shots, engine noise, steps, developing acoustic environment.

Descriptive abstracts are important for creating an atmosphere, leaving space for imagination. However, majority of them could be substituted or compensated by audio effects. For example, sound of waterfall, motor boating an animal’s roaring are good stimuli for imagination.

Crook (1999, p.236) insists on avoiding fatalism and accidental progression of events. In radio plays characters overcome their weakness, but not be saved by destiny. Events and occurrences should have logical basis and be consequences of characters’ deeds and decisions.

The main idea of the play should be understood through words, thoughts and actions of the main hero. Therefore, monologues and dialogues in radio drama play main role in overall impression. Whereas film or play could contain different explanations, analysis, time or space travelling, radio drama is situational and current events are logically structured in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

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Bulk pieces of texts, containing explanation are substituted by symbolical description and sound symbolism. For example, music can influence mood of narration. Beautiful or distorted voice could influence character’s image in a listener’s imagination. Pin or metaphor help to understand general assumptions, made by protagonist, “marriage is like jump with parachute: if you have wet your pants once, nobody would take you on a board next time” (Extreme Love, 6).     

Music is an important element of radio play. Beck (1997, p.76) emphasizes the importance of stylistic interrelation between the genre of play and music genre. For example, when recipient hear fast music in the café (Extreme love, 2), he or she intuitively understand the mood of the scene. Whereas music that is in conflict with the subject of a certain scene might spoil the play.

Moreover, lyrics in which the singer expresses certain idea of the song might affect logical line, being in contrary to dialogues and monologues. Therefore, instrumental, wordless compositions are preferred. In addition, it is important for music with cultural and ethnic context to be coordinated with stylistic peculiarities of the play.

In order to create additional atmosphere, mood and impression, various sound effects are to be used in radio plays. However, different sounds create unique impact on target listeners. Therefore, sound should be properly organized. Beck (1997, p.99) emphasizes that the vocal, sound effects or different conditions of ambience, music, noises from objects, silences are to be distinguished according to the genre of radio play. For example, loud motor boating gives a tip to a listener, mentioning the situation of falling plane (Extreme Love, 4). Therefore, recipients have accurate images about situations.

Nevertheless, using unlimited amount of effects, the author might overburden radio play ruining the structure of radio drama. For example, laugh track in radio comedy might sound confusing for the listener, who cannot understand difference between character’s laugh and additional laugh track without visual images.

Therefore, genre specific and stylistic balance of different elements, used in radio drama, create the special atmosphere, impact on target listeners in accordance with the main idea of a play. The history of radio drama development shows effectiveness and perceptiveness of radio drama broadcasting. However, the perspective of each play primarily depends on its genre and plot. Only structured and logically developed plays deserve to be admired.    

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