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The words "Audio Dramatic" on top of the logo, of a pair of headphones with a pen across them, against a sparkly daytime sky with peeks of skyscrapers at the bottom edge
Hello, fellow podcast lovers!

The next pair of issues are a historical retrospective on fiction podcasts, a deep dive into the early years of podcasting and of course: radio drama.

You, me, and our pets are tired of the constant comparisons to "old-time radio drama" that we find ourselves almost obligated to use in order to explain what this medium is, even though in the United States (and many other countries) its resemblance to classic radio drama has diminished greatly. And of course, radio drama never went out of fashion in places like the UK, where the BBC has had a firm grip on radio production this entire time.

But this week, I want to make sure we are learning from the past as well. The influence of this work on modern audio is apparent, once you know where to look, and in my research I have learned new things about audio from the old styles, like the differences in addressing a single audience member at a time versus a group. In this issue, read on for great old classic episodes and what I've learned from them,  modern adaptations of older shows, and episodes from the 2000s creators of fiction podcasting.

(Note that since some of these are really old episodes, links might lead to YouTube or the Internet Archive instead of a podcast feed).

Next week, I'm featuring an in-depth interview with Alasdair Stuart, co-owner of Escape Artists, where we talk about podcast history, the long evolving arc of a podcast collective's life, and the magic of sound.
an old vintage radio surrounded by white roses, sitting on a table next to a bowl filled with clutter.

The Thing on the Fourble Board, Quiet Please
This is the one radio drama I need everyone to listen to, in order to learn some incredible lessons about the blending of horror and bleak comedy, about the use of silence and music, and about twist endings. It’s widely regarded the best episode that Quiet Please ever produced, thanks to the layering of real life oil workers’ activities and subterranean mythologies, and the performance of Ernest Chappell as Porky, the narrator. The goal of Wyllis Cooper and Ernest Chappell’s Quiet Please was to immerse their audience in a haunting, personal tale that at some point usually involved the audience by speaking to them directly. Each character that Chappell played was complex, with a detailed background and history, resulting in a believable conversation between his character and you. Chappell here delivers a drawling and ironic oil rig worker with a sharp sense of drama and friendliness that traps you just like the spiders he hates. (And Cecil Roy’s contribution to the story is absolutely frightening). If you want a highly detailed analysis and discussion about this episode, David Rheinstrom and Gabriel Urbina talk about it on an episode of Radio Drama Revival.

A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf, The Black Mass
Woolf’s short story A Haunted House got a chilling re-enactment on the irregular radio show The Black Mass during the 60s. It’s a retrieval and subversion of a ghost story, drawing upon a kind of Gothic dread of what lingers in your periphery leading to something dreamy and unexpected about a woman who can sense a ghostly couple in her house who seek something. The Black Mass, produced by Erik Bauersfeld and which focused on adapting classic horror-fantasy stories to audio, treats this story with the delicate touch it deserves, recreating each shutting and opening door, creak of step, and blowing wind without overwhelming the narrator’s wispy and longing storytelling. The Black Mass was an important influence on Thomas Lopez, the founder of the ZBS Foundation who has been creating radio dramas like Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe and Jack Flanders since the 70s.

House of Greed, The Whistler
cw: sexual assault references
This radio series from the 40s and early 50s boasts a popular opening of a person whistling and the sounds of footsteps, leading to the Whistler himself hosting and narrating a crime story. He acts like a Greek chorus, commenting on the characters’ decision and thought patterns, usually taunting them as their plans fall apart and they make mistakes and always hinting at the ironic, grim ending that is to come. The Whistler host has been a long-time inspiration for many noir films in his sarcasm, grim tones, and taunting mood (including of course the poorly-received eight film adaptations of The Whistler). "House of Greed" is a twisty little story that takes place over the arc of years, starting with a wife walking out on her husband and ending with the fall of a house.
The Whistler on Fourble

Three Skeleton Key, Escape and Suspense
"Three Skeleton Key" is the claustrophobic isolationist tale of three men alone in a lighthouse and whose minds succumb to the oncoming threat of thousands of rats in the walls, adapted from a 1937 short story by French author Georges-Gustave Toudouze. I recently discovered that "Three Skeleton Key", which I knew from the radio show Escape, was also done by their sister radio series Suspense in a completely different tone than the version by Escape with Vincent Price in the lead (thank you, Neil Verma!). The sharp vacillation between a dark thriller and a suspenseful adventure story in the two versions is not just thanks to the distinctive approaches to emphasis and speed by Price and Elliott Reid (of Escape), but in part to the reliance on sudden music stingers in the version of Escape and the creaking soundscape that backs Price in Suspense.
Escape on Fourble | Suspense on Fourble

Knock at the Door, Lights Out
Ella really does not like her mother-in-law. Lights Out was one of the earliest radio horror series created by Wyllis Cooper that came on late at night, with gruesome deaths taking center-stage by the end of the story and dark tongue-in-cheek humor that would help define this grim ironic tone in later radio dramas. Later, the show was taken over by Arch Oboler, who relied on stream-of-consciousness narration and often reflected on his antifascist politics in his work. And this episode is from Oboler's era. “Knock at the Door” is the tale about what happens after Ella pushes her mother-in-law into a well, a tape that opens with her husband knocking hard on his mother’s door to surprise her with his new wife.
Lights Out on Fourble

Tales of Thattown

Tales of THATOWN
 is a scripted, serialized, comedy horror audio drama set in Alabama. It asks the deep questions of life, such as: what if a death cult ran thhanke forestry commission? What would rednecks do when facing imminent destruction via sentient kudzu? And most importantly, how do Josh and Other Josh work?

For answers to these questions, listen to the entire backlog in just under a day!
If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me at my Patreon, or at my ko-fi account for a one-time donation! You can also sign-up to talk about advertising in the newsletter.
Patreon Ko-Fi
The Fantasy Inn: Conversation with Elena Fernández Collins and Wil Williams about fiction audio criticism
What to listen to instead of Reply All: tech-focused podcasts for the discerning consumer.

They Go Bump by David Barr Kirtley, Escape Pod
The Escape Artists collection of podcasts includes the science-fiction anthology Escape Pod which has close to 800 episodes. The host for this episode from 2013, Norm Sherman, was an enigmatic host (who I realized vibes very well with my own host persona for Radio Drama Revival) with a scratchy, mysterious voice and personal storytelling and critique. This episode is narrated by Alasdair Stuart, who is now the co-owner of Escape Artists, and Stuart has honed his storytelling skills for years, as can be heard in this episode where he punches up the exhaustion and terror futuristic invisibility and being guinea pigs. (And of course, he does All The Voices, which is delightful). Escape Pod was one of the very first fiction podcasts, founded in 2005 by Sarah Eley, and its mother network Escape Artists has been pushing at common barriers in their industries since then, with universal narrator and editor pay, careful selection of voice actors and narrators who have the lived experience of the story.
Subscribe: Apple | Spotify | RSS

The Shadow: Black Rock
What evil lives in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! This fan production of The Shadow is a recreation of the episode “Black Rock”, where The Shadow fights a gang of thieves and ventures onto a dangerous remote island. Leaning into the familiar corny tone of the original Shadow and balancing it with a modern flavor for steady drama, this adaptation remasters the classic theme song and features new music in the style of the original. Graham Rowat as The Shadow plays right to his strength with a deep gravelly voice, a tone that feels like a raised eyebrow and lowered hat brim. This is a fan audio work that should not go ignored when looking into the lasting effect of older radio drama, and how we still marvel at those stories.

DIOTIMA, The Unseen Hour
The phrase “in the style of old-time radio drama” and similar is a common descriptor in various podcasts, but The Unseen Hour is one of the best from British radio drama style, having started as a live audio theater show with three actors playing ten roles. Understanding that this is the twenty-first century, The Unseen Hour approaches the old-timey factor with a heavy coat of surrealism and sprinkling of horror amid the comedy, as the same characters are caught up over and over in an apocalyptic cycle of stories. DIOTIMA follows the investigative journalist version of Rufus Strideforth in his search for the origin of a podcast that seems to be about his own life. From the parodical 40s-style radio advertisements to the sharp-tongued satire of investigative podcasts, “The Unseen Unseen Hour Files Files” episode is a prime example of the trends that The Unseen Hour has pulled together from crime radio drama and true crime podcasts.
Subscribe: Apple | Spotify | RSS

You couldn't possibly think we'd go through an issue about classics of fiction podcasting without me mentioning my one true love Wormwood? Doing "weird, supernatural happenings in a small town in the middle of nowhere" audio before it was cool in podcasting, Wormwood is a mix of campy and dark, comedy and horror and mystery, lengthy convoluted plot and interpersonal drama. What a tangled web there is here. In my early years as a new listener, Wormwood taught me about atmospheric balance and tonal contrast in the name of cliffhangers, and tapped straight into the depth of my feelings of isolation in a house that you can't escape.
Subscribe: Apple | RSS
  • Indrisano Audio, LLC: Get help launching or improving your podcast with our consulting, composition, and editing services! You bring the Drama - we've got the Audio. Learn more at our website.

Did you get here from a link online, or sent this by someone else?

If you'd like to ask me questions or comments, you can reply to this newsletter (it goes directly to my email!) or reach out to me on Twitter. What radio dramas do you remember fondly? Or maybe even, not so fondly?

May your podcasts bring you joy,
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