The Magic of Full-Cast Audio Dramas

You may have heard a few of these terms before – radio plays, audio dramas, audio plays, full-cast audiobooks…

What you need to know is just one word:  WOW!

Radio playsLong before I began my love affair with audiobooks, I was a passionate fan of radio plays. These “movies for the mind” include multiple actors, sound effects and a full musical score to make it just like a movie, but without the picture.

Radio plays are those programs which are specifically produced for radio broadcast – so they can often include pauses for ad breaks. The other names you hear, like audio plays, are generally the same with the exception that they don’t usually include ad breaks. Find more definitions in my glossary of audiobook terminology.

So, what’s the benefit of fully dramatized recordings over audiobooks? Quite simply, it’s your own imagination. No one knows you like you know yourself, so when the picture is removed, your imagination kicks in, making radio plays the most romantic, adventurous, funniest, fantastical or terrifying experience you can hope for.

In film and TV, you are relying on someone else’s interpretation of events. Yeah, it can be great, but only you know what scares you the most, or what tickles your funny bone the greatest. When your own imagination kicks in, the story’s impact can hit ten-fold.

If you need proof, just think of the original 1938 radio broadcast of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds that was adapted by Orson Welles for his Mercury Theatre on the Air. The production was so well done, and so unique, that it panicked the USA, coast to coast, into thinking there really was an alien invasion taking place! The radio play tapped into people’s fears, ignorance and sense of trust by unfolding the story as a series of news bulletins and interviews.

You may think we’re not so gullible today, but how many people still believe in the altruism of our politicians and media outlets, and don’t comprehend the deliberate and false fear-mongering they do to score votes or followers? Back then it was aliens. Yesterday it was Italian migration, then the Vietnamese. Today it’s Muslims. We may be more educated, but do we ever actually learn?

Our brains are wired to tap into the core of our being, whether it be our deepest, darkest bigotry or our unconditional love of mankind. However you’re wired, that’s how you will experience a fully dramatized audio play. For me, horror, comedy and sci-fi are the best genres because these are the most extreme when it comes to my imagination. They really tap into my darkest fears, my ability to laugh at life, and my creativity. For others, romantic fiction, murder mysteries or historical dramas may appeal most.

Whatever your poison, give the full-cast productions a go. There’s plenty out there, from amateur radio theatre companies through to professional productions. In the amateur arena, my absolute favourite would have to be the Icebox Radio Theater’s comically brilliant mystery series, The Scoop Sisters. Professionally, there’s too many to choose from, beginning with Big Finish Productions, through to the weekly broadcasts of Jim French’s Imagination Theater and the world’s best producer of radio plays, the BBC.

Best of all, there’s HUGE amounts of full-cast audio plays that are legitimately available online for free. Some can be downloaded from the company’s own website. Others can be accessed via weekly podcasts, like the quirky comedy, Welcome to Night Vale (incidentally, the Welcome to Night Vale folks released a novel and I reviewed the audiobook of it in July 2016).

To see what’s out there, just search for key terms like “radio play”, “audio play”, etc to find the plethora of companies offering their productions for free or cheaply. Even audible offers a range of free audiobooks and full-cast recordings. Just search for the word “free” on their site!