The scene is of Mount Dromedary across Horseshoe Bay, Bermagui, on the New South Wales South Coast
by Graham J. Andrews
Published by Flairnet
Radio drama enjoyed pre-eminent success and popularity until the 1950s and 1960s when television began to take over as the dominant form of home entertainment. As pictures entered the home for the first time, the superficially inferior medium of radio became marginalised. The fact that modern-day audiences cannot compare in size to those of the heyday of radio doesn't mean that radio drama isn't still popular, and that there isn't an important place for it, even now.
There are many people who still like to hear the occasional repeated episode from 'Yes What', or episodes of the serial 'Cattleman' that went to air many, many years ago. Only a few years ago a new serial 'The Castlereagh Line' made an appearance, and repeats of this can still be heard on some stations - well after its production ceased. A lot of radio listeners grew up with radio dramas and serials, and have fond memories of such entertainment. Radio drama will always have a niche. There will always be times when people want something more involved than the usual rotation play of music. There will always be circumstances when people listen to the radio, either through choice, or because at a particular time they are unable to watch television, for example while tinkering under the bonnet of a car. Radio, including radio drama, keeps motorists company as they drive along lonely highways. Radio drama is no more dead than radio itself! Both are very much alive, and will undoubtedly remain that way.
Some people may not regard the writing of a radio drama to be as glamorous as writing a script for a television audience - partly, perhaps, because of the lack of financial remuneration. But there are rewards to be had in radio drama that can be every bit as significant as those found in writing for any medium, great or small.
WRITING A RADIO DRAMA
In writing radio drama, a very particular approach must be taken to script construction and writing style. This is the distinctive challenge of the art. Like all radio material, radio drama involves the stimulation of the imagination, not the laborious construction of tangible images. With the right sound effects, it is possible to create any sort of illusion. Whatever kind of drama you produce, it must create an image for the listener. That's the only way to put the action in a setting. It's possible, like in cinema or television, to place the characters in paradise. With the right sound effects, the right choice of words, it’s possible to transport those characters from paradise to a parched desert island. Add a few sharks for good measure, or a plague of flies. A few appropriate sounds, acting to fit the part, the right dialogue, and there they are, as far as they could be from their paradise.
Many stage producers, actors and writers find that they can express themselves through the arts in a way that they would not otherwise be able to do. Through a performance that has a message, or acting that is convincing, they are able to express their attitudes, beliefs and emotions. Radio drama can have the same benefits. There can be a real message.
Some people express their emotions through anger. Radio can provide an excellent and constructive way to express how and what you feel, how you feel about the government or your workplace conditions.
The dramatic form does not allow for the lengthy scene-setting descriptions or illuminating inner thoughts that often form the backbone of the short story or the novel. Information has to be conveyed through dialogue - and it must not be blatantly obvious that the speaker is simply telling us (the audience) scene setting information that the writer needs to get across. It would sound ridiculous if a character said: 'I like that blue and white dress you are wearing. You must have paid twenty-five dollars for it.' Instead, we could have a character say something like: 'Same dress? I might have known.' The reply could impart the information about the price of the clothing, and at the same time hint at the wearer's financial situation: 'I only had twenty-five dollars to spend. It's all I could afford.' It's not what is said that is important, but rather how the information is conveyed to the listener to create a certain image. With radio, it is important at all times to get the listener to build up a picture in his or her mind of what’s going on, who’s wearing what, the actions of the characters, and what's happening outside, or even elsewhere in the room.
It would not be realistic to have one character say to another - 'There's John, who was sitting in the corner on the chair. I am angry that he has just got up.' - and expect listeners to get excited! Instead, information such as this can be conveyed by another character, say his father, shouting at John: 'Sit in that corner like I told you to, and don't you move again!' We now know that John is no longer sitting in the comer, he had been told to do so, and we know that the father is angry. You have to work hard to stimulate another person’s imagination, but it can be done, simply with words-the right words, at the right time, phrased in the right way.
Although the text is the starting point of drama, the tone, or the way the actors say those words is important too. 'Sit in that corner like I told you to, and don't you move again', could be said brusquely, in a kindly manner, or in a nasty, spiteful way. The tone will reflect the type of character saying those words and that character's present mood.
Note: This is an excerpt from Chapter Four of You're On Air - A Guide to Writing, Preparing and Presenting Programs on Community Radio, written by Graham Andrews and published by Flairnet.
The book You're On Air can be ordered from the publishers, Flairnet for $39.95 for the print copy with free postage. It contains chapters on writing your script for radio, gathering and presenting news, the radio documentary, radio drama, interviewing techniques, timing, presenting, the legal aspects, a look at some programs, and broadcast technology.