Why Do We Celebrate Audio Drama on October 30th?
For those of you who still haven’t heard the news – really, the first “fake” news controversy of note – on October 30th, 1938, the Mercury Theater on the Air, a sustained radio show airing on the Columbia Radio network, and piloted by Orson Welles and John Houseman, broadcast Howard Koch’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, a Victorian novel about the invasion of Britain, then the entire planet, by Martians. The rest is pop culture history… and now World Audio Drama Day history.
Surprisingly, UNESCO – the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – almost chose to celebrate World Radio Day on October 30th. It was a date that was very popular with some decision-makers within the international organization, but others were concerned about such a pivotal day being connected with a “hoax” or “trick”. (Others were concerned that this might be a too Western-centric date – a good point, considering that pivotal radio moments happen every day in rural locations across our Global South. Regional broadcasters in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe may not have the cachet of Clear Channel, National Public Radio or the BBC World Service, but their audio dramas can actually change lives for the better.)And still, the most famous audio drama of all time is not a popular podcast nor one of the earliest dramas heard over radio.
How did Audio Drama Day happen?
I can’t even remember the first audio drama I fell in love with, though “War of the Worlds” had to be one of the next one or two. I’ve been advocating for audio drama since. In late 2012, I believed the 75th anniversary of this broadcast – October 30, 2013 – was a good time to announce a national day to celebrate the artform of audio drama. Not just “old time radio” or “fiction podcasts”. All audio drama – whether it was broadcast on radio, streamed over the web, performed live on stage or in a classroom, or listened to as a podcast on a smartphone. At the Parsec Awards held in Atlanta that Labor Day, hosts Scott Sigler and Veronica Belmont generously took a moment to mention that October 30th would be the first Audio Drama Day. (Thank you so much, both of you.) Today, it’s an opportunity for all of us to celebrate audio drama, no matter how we came to it, or when.
I want to also point out that this entire idea of announcing a regular date for audio drama enjoyment and history, in hindsight, seems pretty crazy. The Friends of Old Time Radio, a terrific organization that held large get-togethers each year in the Newark area, had closed shop in 2011. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had, under the Stephen Harper regime, slashed drama in 2009, and then completely cut it – all funding, all production – in 2012. Other than Sound Stages Radio, which I ran after taking over from its creator, long-time producer Jeff Adams (Icebox Radio), in 2013 I knew of no other station in North America still running a modern audio drama format. And I often tell people about a top NGO media strategist I spoke to at South by Southwest in 2015, who told me that she thought podcasts were “dead” – which made me feel a little less pompous about moderating one of two audio drama panels at the festivals. And yet – audio drama not only endures, but is in the midst of a Platinum age renaissance of creativity. There are literally hundreds of excellent audio dramas to choose from today.
My favorite aspect of Audio Drama Day is seeing people on social media sharing the works by others that they enjoy most – not just the ones they produced or worked on, but that give them joy (or more appropriately for Halloween, shivers).
Happy World Audio Drama Day! Long live Audio Drama!
P.S. One of these years we’ll have to celebrate at real-life Grovers Mill, New Jersey. RSVP me, 2022. Maybe we’ll even have company.