Why Celebrate World Audio Drama Day?

Because October 30th is still the perfect time to sit back and enjoy a terrifying audio tale.

Happy 5th birthday, World Audio Drama Day! 

Though I first promoted a national day to celebrate the artform in 2013, for me, the genesis of Audio Drama Day really started in 1983, when Katie Hutterer, my neighbor around the block, first opened up her portable record player and lent me an LP of The Mercury Theatre’s “War of the Worlds”. (Thanks, Katie.) I would later learn that radio shows had been around since the 1920s, and that my own grandmother had been a featured, recurring performer on McCanns’ Pure Food Hour, one of the very first network shows, airing on WOR, still one of the top radio stations in North America. But, with all respect to Grandma and thousands of other people who produced innovative, or just plain exciting radio work in the weeks, months and years prior, that specific date – October 30th, 1938 – has continued to electrify generations of listeners.

Because of those actors and sound effects artists, as well as Orson Welles, producer John Houseman, and writer Howard Koch – “War of the Worlds” – the audio show itself, and not just its notoriety – opened a new world of entertainment up for me. Countless audio producers, writers, actors, and listeners can say the same.

Or perhaps not. There have been other notable gateways to audio drama, and now many of them are digital and may never be broadcast over terrestrial radio. 

In 2013, the stars, for once, seemed to be in sync. Audio drama podcasting was reaching a new high of listeners, with some of the best independent podcast episodes downloaded in the five or six figure range (better than many Arbitron ratings), and popular podcasts reaching over a million downloads and counting.

That same October in 2013 would also herald the seventy-fifth anniversary of the broadcast of “War of the  Worlds.” PBS had prepared a new documentary about the production of the show, cowritten by A. Brad Schwartz, who had helped reveal new insights about the radio listeners of 1938.  During 2013, Orson Welles, John Houseman, and Howard Koch were again recognized for the most famous radio broadcast of all time; and, as happens each year, a few terrestrial stations rebroadcast the show, or a new adaptation. In honor of the anniversary, modern audio dramatists also created a special contest that summer to reimagine “War of the Worlds”, which produced some stunning entries, including a winner, “War of the Cotswolds”. 

Why not celebrate the shock, and the scary good time, that both “War of the Worlds,” other classic radio dramas, and modern audio dramas provide every Halloween – and frankly, any other day of the year you choose to listen?

Why not – if it meant I could educate even one more person about the artform that certainly was not dead, but was actually thriving – even if no one could definitely describe what its best name was today (fiction podcasts? audio serials? radio drama? full cast audio? old time radio?) It’s to this end that my partner David Jarvis and I decided to not only name this date as one to bring together new and old audiences and creators, but to also fiscally sponsor it – first during our ownership of Sound Stages Radio (which for almost a decade, starting in its first incarnation as Icebox Radio, was one of the only places in North America that you could hear a format devoted to modern audio drama) – and now as owners of Kettle Falls Media.

While many listeners prefer one or the other, we believe that World Audio Drama Day must always recognize the trailblazing past – not only the work of Welles, Houseman, Koch, and their cast and crew, but the many brilliant writers, producers, sound designers and actors who kept this art alive long before and until the syndicated “podcast” was invented. 

World Audio Drama Day has since gone places I never expected it to go. For one thing, after the first year, which merely tried to get Americans invested in a “national” Audio Drama Day – a number of producers, writers, listeners, and fans indicated they wanted to get in on the act. It became World Audio Drama Day.

In 2015, I was proud to participate, with a number of other audio dramatists, on “Vultures Over Low Doves”, the inaugural production of 11th Hour Audio Productions, which further extended the fun and fright of World Audio Drama Day. Each year, 11th Hour provides a highly regional and crowdsourced method for audio dramatists to get together and make mischief. On the 5th anniversary of World Audio Drama Day, “Vulture Over Low Doves” and 10 other scary tales created for the anniversary will be available for purchase from Blackstone Audio – with preorders beginning in September 2018. You’ll not only hear fantastic audio, but support this growing artform.

And if you want to listen to something older, from the era when children snuck crystal radio sets and flashlights under the covers, and families huddled in the dark around the eerie light of a cathedral radio? There are so many free, public domain shows to choose from, and not a few copyrighted, but older gems that are also easy to locate: Lights Out, Suspense, Quiet Please, Macabre, CBS Radio Mystery Theater, Nightfall, Vanishing Point, and so much more. 

Like me, several people have not only continued to listen to and produce audio drama, but have been pushing to get the word out about the resurgence, and continued pleasures, of this artform. My hope is that you will find out more about those people through this site, our Twitter feed, and the many places – live theatres, websites, podcasts, terrestrial and satellite radio, and fan conventions – where audio drama continues to evolve and thrive. #WorldAudioDramaDay is a searchable hashtag that can help. 

Thank you for joining us this year, World Audio Drama Day’s 5th celebration. We hope you’ll share the good news with a friend – or ten.

Happy World Audio Drama Day! Long live Audio Drama!

Sibby Wieland
Friendswood, Texas