28 September 2011

Sound Delights: The radio play and a box with no pictures

I can't remember, but I can imagine...gathering around a large, or small, box without pictures and listening only the sounds coming out of it.  People telling the news, sharing stories: simply communicating.  No, I can't remember the day when the radio was used for the primary form of information and entertainment.  My grandparents, certainly.  My parents, maybe.  But, not me.  I recall days without the internet, computers, and even remote controls, but my box always had a picture with it.  

Radio, as I know it, has been a source of entertainment and communication, but always in a particular, even limited way.  Various stations specializing in different music genres  for entertainment, and even news or informational shows are all that I knew radio had to offer.  However, I recently discovered the most hilarious and creative thirty minutes on the British radio waves and it's a comedy.  A comic radio show.  

Cabin Pressure: a BBC radio comedy
 The above is the recording of the below series.

I love Cabin Pressure.  It's a half an hour of silliness that abounds for the small (one plane) charter airline call MJN Air.  Starring only four main actors/characters, with the occasional guest(s), and being mostly set in an airplane cockpit the radio format is actually an ideal format.  Sounds and background noises cue the listener when scenery has changed and allows for the imagination to fly along with them.  For six weeks this summer, I gathered around my modern box (a laptop) to enjoy this modern radio sit-com, for lack of a better description.  There is nothing equivalent to this on the American airwaves, and I can't imagine there ever would be, or could be.  BBC4, the radio station that features readings of stories, interviews and reviews on literature and music and culture and everything in between, produces this (and other) radio plays that are quite entertaining.  

Comedies are certainly not the only genre that pass on the radio. Recently, the station took on the Russian novel Life and Fate as a serial.  Want to listen to the radio serial? Give it a shot.  It's better than an audio book. My interest peaked when I saw two notable British actors took on parts.  Cabin Pressure also has actors that have appeared in television and movies and it's a treat to hear an actor perform a character.  So,  this clip was of particular interest

Quick History Lesson

A bit ironically, radio dramas appeared to have had a start in the 1920s in the US.  That decade saw a surge of radio drama activity beginning with a brief sketch to Broadway musical comedies and their casts to weekly broadcasts of full plays with a regular troupe of actors.  In 1923,  original pieces written for radio were airing on radio stations across the country.  Serious study of radio dramas in the 1920s and 30s are limited, however.  And, with the arrival of television in the 1950s, it seems as if Americans have almost forgotten radio plays.  Today, it continues to thrive in Europe, particularly England and Germany.  XM Radio features radio dramas for US listeners as well as ACB radio (American Council for the Blind), but it can barely be found on mainstream US radio.
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_drama)  

So, I find radio plays, particularly ones on BBC, to be another Anglo-delight.  My box may be able to give me sound, pictures, and access to just about anything; however, I am glad it can be used in the same fashion that allows my own imagination to soar just by good stories, talented voices and sounds.