radio drama

radio drama
   Most radio drama is broadcast on Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service, although Radio 3’s output was halved in 1994–5 after competition from Classic FM. There is a scattering of drama on local radio at Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. Radio suits multiple genres and styles including book adaptations, situation comedy, detective stories, science fiction, classical works, mainstream British and European plays and modern writing, some of it commissioned. In the early days of radio it was widely regarded as the most avant-garde medium, and work by MacNeice and Dylan Thomas provided an experimental springboard for Beckett and Stoppard, Caryl Phillips and Anthony Minghella because the medium, while imposing strict disciplines of explication in plot and character, allows unlimited freedom of location, action and style. Adaptations of works like Gogol’s Diary of a Madman which would be impossible on television or on stage can be produced on radio very successfully.
   In the nature of contemporary media culture, success is measured in terms of mass audiences and highly-paid stars. Journalists and pundits are unwilling to make qualitative judgements for fear of being thought elitist or politically incorrect by contrasting popular television drama with any other sort of work. To a limited extent this favours radio, as many writers have used the relative freedom and obscurity of radio to develop their careers before going on to wider audiences and closer critical attention. Most notably, Douglas Adams had a huge popular hit with The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The transfer to television was not so successful because the density of the material failed to register on the screen.
   Although radio drama does not maintain a high cultural profile or attract large audiences, its listenership is dedicated, highly articulate and prone to campaign should anything disturb the general tenor of radio output. When allied to the high quality of radio writing, this produces a disproportionately influential effect on the rest of media output. Cultural power has shifted even further away from creative people during the 1990s, as it did from film during the 1970s and television during the 1980s, because of changes in management style introduced for the ostensible purpose of saving (or making more) money. It has been widely suggested that managers simply do not want allegedly wayward creative talents interfering with the smooth running of the organization. However, radio continues to foster talented writers and performers in the production of marginal work other media reject.
   See also: radio comedy
   Further reading
    Kirkpatrick, D. (ed.) (1978–) Best Radio Plays, London: Methuen/BBC.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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