Writing for Radio

This week I found myself writing for radio and the difference between television and radio is huge. I had not really thought about radio for a very long time. In fact the last time I wrote anything for the medium was many years ago. I have found it such an exciting experience. All too often there is a tendency to look down on radio performance as somehow archaic. We often form mental pictures of post war families huddled around huge radios listening to Tony Hancock or The Goon show. It all seems pointless working in a medium which on the surface appears to offer only a part of a genuine entertainment package. In a superficial sense, it can appear to be just the soundtrack, like a TV show minus its picture and therefore only half of the whole.

Radio is in fact something very different from television or film and is more akin to theatre. With radio for example, the listener must concentrate on the events unfolding and must use their own imagination in order to interpret the imagery suggested by the sounds and voices heard. It is like the fourth wall in the theatre. Every member of every audience enters into an unspoken agreement when they take their seats. That agreement simply states, that there is an invisible wall, behind which the actors live their lives, oblivious that they are being observed. . Radio asks that we act as eavesdroppers, listening to events somewhere out of sight, but which we can still become fully engaged with. Television and film give us something very different. With these mediums we have no need of full attention, we can be disengaged and still follow on-screen events, as is our whim. Quality film and TV will of course hold our attention and make us believe, even carry us along, making use of our emotions and leave us touched. However all too often we are only half the way there and leave the experience still wanting, not quite satisfied.

Radio, like theatre calls for our full engagement. We must focus on the unfolding events and pay close attention, or risk being confused by our wandering thoughts. Because of this, we invest so much in the event, that we are carried with it, providing it is quality of course, otherwise this type of medium will lose us very quickly. I have been working on novels and a screenplay and switching to radio has really made me stop and think. The last few days have given me so much of an appreciation of how powerful, how intimate and perfect radio, as a medium can be. From an actor’s point of view I can see the sheer intimacy of using the voice as a tool to reach the listener and just with words, paint pictures using the listeners own imaginations. I love the thought that with only voices, sound effects and music, we can be transported through time and space and made to experience anything which the writer has created and the cast and crew brought to broadcast. Writing in for this medium has certainly given me food for thought.


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