The Sonic Society

Showcasing the very best in new Audio Drama

The Rise of the Audio Story

serialIt’s been ten years in the Society and nearly a hundred years since the art form began. Most of us who have delved into the latest medium- podcasting have loved every minute of the “on demand” style of listening to stories.

Most recently, some audio stories have achieved a real massive fan following. Shows like Welcome to Night Vale and Serial have certainly hit the big time. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Serial” has been downloaded an average 1.26 million times each episode. With twelve episodes that’s more than 15 million pairs of ears listening each episode, and if that’s a meaningless number, consider 15 million is just roughly under half of all the people who live in Canada.

Serial is a spinoff mini-series from the popular This American Life, an NPR show out of WBEZ Chicago, and focuses on the non-fiction murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Masud Syed for the crime. The story is framed and provided from the first person perspective of Sarah Koenig an award winning journalist and producer of the show.

Serial is certainly compelling- especially knowing that everything you’re getting in the story is the truth, and while Koenig offers no definitive answers, she raises a lot of important questions as to who truly is responsible for Ms. Lee’s murder.

What I find also interesting is the number of people who have introduced shows like Serial and Night Vale to me as audio drama. But when I go to listen to the stories, as much as I appreciate what they are doing- they really aren’t audio drama as we know it.

First, let’s look at the similarities to audio drama as we know it. All of these shows have a story. They also have characters that tend to speak for themselves, although Night Vale usually works with its own mythical radio host. But this is where the similarity ends.

WireTapArtistPosterAnother good example of this style is Wiretap with Jonathan Goldstein, on CBC radio. Goldstein provides a first person narrative of different aspects of his life and invites his friends and family to speak on these issues through the phone. While scripted, these comedic and often surreal vignettes follow the themes in Goldstein’s life and provide a kind of post-modern critique of the world. There’s an intimacy to this kind of storytelling. It’s the main ingredient in why so many people enjoy listening to their favourite podcasts again and again. While radio has long had a distance of projecting to the masses, podcasting brings the listener up close, with the host of each show almost whispering into the ears.

It’s that sense of being let in on something that makes these shows so compelling for the listener. The modern age has so little connection, and these kinds of audio stories connect.

But they aren’t audio drama. Here’s why.

If Serial were a true radio drama, we wouldn’t be treated to Koenig’s reporter style commentary through out. We’re keenly aware she’s in a studio, and her thoughts are organized in an essay to present information to you- albeit in a relaxed format. Serial, the radio drama would have the sound effects added. The pushing of the recording button. The accidental bumping of the microphone. The nervous little blemishes of real life. Koenig would be unveiling the story for herself as much as for the audience, and we’d walk with her in her explorations for the truth.

Good audio drama is immediate. The listener feels like they are in the room with the action. The story, like a good movie, presents that willing suspension of disbelief that sweeps the listeners away- sometimes to entirely different worlds. While Wiretap, Night Vale, and Serial draw us into the story, we’re keenly aware that we are listening to stories, fashioned and written, not drama while involves us in the deepest of levels. It is the difference between listening to a novel about your parents arguing, and listening to a cassette tape of an incident of your parents arguing. The former will deepen your understanding, the latter will involve you. Make you laugh, cry, and cringe in the real-time unveiling of the narrative.

I enjoyed the serious true crime nature of Serial and the comedic everyman Wiretap, and I love the compelling nature of the podcast medium, but when it comes to investing myself, its audio drama that captivates me.


About The Author

Born to Teachers and Amateur Audio Enthusiasts in the small rural community of Belwood, Jack's first love was stories- writing, reading, telling, and singing. He developed his acting skills through High School, University, and through film and community theatre. Jack writes the lion's share of Electric Vicuna's Audio Drama scripts and has his own writing site at www.jackjward.com He's thrilled to co-host the Sonic Society with his wonderful, talented, friend David Ault!

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