Category: Golden Age Article

How Fans Can Create a New Golden Age of Audio Drama

In last week’s article, I wrote about what audio drama producers could do to create a new golden age of audio. Now let’s turn to what fans can do.

1) Don’t Pirate Modern Audio Dramas

Anti-piracy talks from big corporations generates eye rolls from many. It’s hard to feel sorry for a multi-billion dollar corporation and its multi-millionaire producers, directors, and stars. However, modern audio dramas typically operate on a much smaller profit margin. For them, the consequences of piracy can mean they are unable to produce as much new material as they would like,

or may be unable to continue in business at all.

Most people who produce audio dramas professionally do so, first for the love of the art form, but they have to be able to support themselves, their actors, and their crew in order to be able to produce top-notch work. So this point is important.

2) Enjoy Audio Dramas through Legal Means.

How can listeners legally enjoy audio dramas? There’s the obvious answers of purchasing them through either the producers’ websites or through or the ITunes store. On occasion, an audio drama producer will make a large selection of their works available through a site called HumbleBundle. It allows downloaders to pay whatever price they choose for a whole bundle of video games, books, and occasionally audio dramas.

There are legal ways to listen to audio dramas for free. For example, some audio dramas are still broadcast over the air. Colonial Radio Theatre is on the Air with a brand new series on affiliates in Seattle and in Troy, Alabama with live internet streaming available from the Seattle station. The Twilight Zone radio series is syndicated throughout the U.S. and strong ratings can be a boon to the program. In addition to traditional radio stations, BBC Radio 4 Extra offers listeners a wide variety of radio programs from its own library of programs. It has also broadcast episodes of the Twilight Zone and in the past has featured Big Finish Doctor Who plays.

Also some audio dramas may be available to borrow from your local library. If a particular audio drama isn’t available, you can request the library purchase it. In addition, check and see what electronic lending services your library offers. I found hundreds of audio dramas available through one of the apps my library offers. In addition, Big Finish offers hundreds hundreds of audio dramas through Spotify.

These electronic services can allow producers to earn a small amount of royalties for each listen or download which can be better than the library buying one copy and all the royalties they receive are from the sale of one disc. As I stated, this does depend very much on companies using an active distribution system.

3) Promote Good Audio Dramas

Good Audio dramas need to be talked about. Reviews are always welcome if you have the time to write them. Even a short post on social media that you enjoyed something can be helpful in getting the word out about good audio dramas. Again, most of these companies don’t have a huge PR budget. You honestly sharing what you like is of immense importance. In addition, if you do purchase audio dramas through Audible or through Itunes, you can rate your purchase without writing a review which can also be helpful.

Also consider giving the gift of audio dramas to people who you think might enjoy them. I was once leading a committee and I found there was an awareness of old time radio. I decided to give every member of the committee one of Colonial Radio Theater’s Father Brown CD sets because I thought that would be the most likely thing they would enjoy.

Of course, the gift of an audio drama CD would not appropriate for everyone, and the most important thing to consider in choosing the gift is the recipient. But if there’s someone on your gift list who you think might enjoy a good audio drama, you might open a whole new world to them with a gift no one else would think to give.

4) Join Audio Drama Crowd Funding Efforts

Crowdfunding is one of the more exciting developments of the 21st Century. Under the old model that dominated innovation and entertainment, consumers had to wait and see what would be offered to them by corporations. What food would they buy? What movies would they watch? The power of crowdfunding is that entrepreneurs and artists can bring their idea to people who can choose to invest a small amount of money in making it happen.

Audio Drama crowdfunding will come in two forms: Kickstarter and Patreon. With a Kickstarter campaign, an audio drama producer may ask people to help cover the cost of producing an audio drama or a series of episodes. There will often be rewards at various levels of support where you might get the physical product or a download when the item is released commercially.

With a Patreon campaign, you give monthly to support the audio drama production. It may be producing a podcast where all of its episodes are offered for free for listeners to download and rely entirely or mostly on listener support to continue going.

Whether it’s Kickstarter or Patreon, the concept is the same: You help support the creation of the art you enjoy and become partners in creating a new golden age of audio drama.

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How Audio Drama Producers Can Help Create a New Golden Age

For the past forty years, Jim French has been a leading creator and advocate for audio drama. He’s produced around 1,000 episodes between all the programs Jim French productions has made. This Sunday will mark the 1,093rd and final weekly broadcast of Imagination Theater, and the final episode of the long-running Seattle based Detective series Harry Nile.

Yet, the end of French’s distinguished career doesn’t mean an end of audio drama in the United States. Far from it. There are many companies that are emerging, and of course, there are existing companies in the United States such as the Colonial Radio Theatre as well as the Twilight Zone Radio series which airs on 200 radio stations across America as well as several faith-based series like Adventures in Odyssey and Unshackled. In addition, there are great companies from Great Britain such as Big Finish and the production house of BBC radio 4.

Yet audio drama is shrouded in obscurity. To most Americans, it’s something that ended with the Golden Age of Radio. This belief is shared by many who would be an audience for it. Our twenty-first century world of high storage capacity, and streaming of wireless and data make audio drama attractive entertainment for life on the go. What’s required to make audio drama successful in the United States in the twenty-first century? There are several things that producers and fans can do to make this happen.

In this article I’ll focus on producers and next week I’ll focus on fans. My suggestions come from more of a “fan’s eye” view of how successful radio dramas work. The best audio producers I’ve mentioned are doing most most of these already, so I’m talking about the best practices I’ve observed. Hopefully new producers will join their ranks and provide a quality product that listeners will enjoy.

1) Focus on a Great Listener Experience:

Audio Drama is some of the least expensive media to produce compared to television and movies. However, a successful radio drama does require good script writing and good acting. The quality of the voice becomes more critical as there’s little that can be done if the acting is not right. It’s critical to think about the experience of the listener. I once purchased an audio drama where it turned out to be a recording of a stage play. It mostly worked, but I got lost as to what was going on at times due to physical actions that weren’t communicated for the audio. In such adaptations, adding linking narration in post-production can help keep listeners from getting lost.

2) Build a Great Community of Cast and Crew

One of the most striking things about the best audio dramas is how often the same names are repeated in the credits. Whether it’s Lincoln Clark at Colonial Radio Theater or John Dorney at Big Finish, great companies tend to use and develop talented actors, writers, and production staff.

3) Be Transparent About Content Issues

Not all audio dramas are for the whole family. However, many people may assume audio dramas will be relatively family friendly. Some will have heard old time radio and assume it would be like that. Audio producers may assume that anything goes since they’re telling a serious modern story without having to deal with FCC standards. Just because a story has a heavy topic doesn’t mean it requires strong language or graphic sex portrayals and it’s not wise to assume listeners will magically predict what producers will do. It’s advisable to include content warnings if your productions contain material that would get a film rated PG-13 or worse. Creators aren’t required by law or anyone else to post these notices, but if they don’t, they need to be prepared to get reviews from irate parents who decided to play their audio drama on a long car trip and their children were exposed to a torrent of F-bombs.

4) Make Programs Accessible and Affordable

It’s critical for producers to give the public a chance to get hooked on their productions. There are many ways to do this. For example, some audio drama producers make many of their older dramas available on Spotify, or they make them available through digital content distribution companies who provide them to libraries. Others will put full episodes of their series on Soundcloud or be featured in a broadcast like Imagination Theater. These may bring in small royalty checks or provide no income, but they allow listeners a risk free chance to discover what a company produces. Once the public discovers them, it’s important that companies find a way to balance the need for profit with the ability to keep their offerings affordable for the general public.

5) Keep Constantly Improving

Audio Drama producers should be constantly innovating and improving in every aspect of their business from cover art to music and sound design. With good companies like Big Finish or Colonial, you can tell their earliest productions from their later ones because they’ve stepped up their production values in every way.

A new company can start out doing productions with minimal sound effects and decent music. If they have good scripts and actors, it can still be entertaining provided they don’t try to produce a massive epic that can’t be done well with a 5,000 sound effects CD. As long as their reach doesn’t exceed their grasp, they can be in a good place. But it’s important to avoid complacency. The top-of-the-line audio productions sound much better than those that were made just ten years ago, and smart producers will work to reach that level.

There’s a great opportunity for innovative people to join those already making great audio drama. Talent and a dedication to quality are the keys to success.

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Book Review: 400 Things Cops Know

In 400 Things Cops Know, veteran Milwaukee and San Francisco Police patrolmen Adam Plantinga shares his experiences as a 21st Century big city police officer.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters, the first eighteen are centered on subjects ranging from what you would think would be the mundane issues in seasonal policing to the straight dope about shootings and car chases. The final chapter is fifty-four miscellaneous “things” that didn’t fit easily into the proceeding chapters. The “400 things” are a mix of short vignettes, quick tidbits of cop information, and longer reflections on the life and methods of police officers.

Plantinga makes each of these tips engaging. Some are humorous, some are poignant, and others are just plain interesting. Some of these include sharing the advice that when a police officer stops a car full of shady characters to do a search, that the passengers should be seated in a specific manner to avoid a sudden escape or interference with the search.

Or the fact that it’s possible for pedestrians to be hit so hard by a car, they fly out of their shoes.

If you ever wondered about criminals in TV shows and movies who were horrible shots and fire repeatedly at a target without hitting it, that isn’t necessarily unrealistic. “Most bad guys can’t shoot for spit,” writes Plantinga. The book also tells how police officers can recognize a shoplifter.

The book offers several rules of the road for patrolmen that you won’t find in a manual. For example, Plantinga says, if an officer comes across children selling lemonade or raffle tickets for their school or sports team, “you shall buy some, and if you have no cash on you, you shall go to an ATM and procure some.” He further states police officers should give an offending motorist either a ticket or a lecture but that’s “it’s not fair” to give both.

The book goes into deeper and sadder sides of police work in chapters about “being among the Dead,” “Domestic Violence,” and “Hookers and Johns.”  Plantinga’s insights are often poignant and always honest. Often the book’s language reflects the ugly and coarse world many metropolitan policemen operate in.

This insightful book is a must-read for anyone who writes modern day crime fiction. It’s further recommended for anyone who wants to know what real life on the street is like for a modern urban patrolmen.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 7

Big Finish concludes its four-year promise of adapting all the episodes from the mostly lost first season of the Avengers starring Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel and Julian Wadham as John Steed. There are three stories in this final release, but only one features both protagonists.

Dragonsfield is a superb Cold War story that finds Steed on his own and investigating espionage at a British lab. The lab is trying to create a top-of-the line space suit in order to sell it to the Americans. This story is a delightfully done mystery with plenty of suspects and manages to keep you guessing. We do see Steed using some enhanced interrogation methods on one spy, but other than that this is a very well-done story featuring Steed alone.

In the Far Distant Dead, on his way home from a South American holiday, Dr. Keel stops to provide medical relief in the wake of a cyclone. In the process, he encounters a fisherman with food poisoning and discovers the source–a can of hydraulic fluid mis-labeled as olive oil.

Keel sets out to get to the bottom of the deliberate act meant to save on custom fees. Following on the heels of a solo episode for Steed, this solo episode for Keel balances things out and we get a story that centers on Keel as a physician and where the mystery is driven by Keel’s compassion and righteous anger. Dr. Sandoval is an interesting supporting character. Is her outrage real or is she in on the conspiracy?

The story does suffer from a villain who is over-the-top. The way he says “Kill him!” is hilarious but I don’t know if that goes well with the tone of the story.

Finally, in The Deadly Air, Steed and Keel investigate sabotage at a laboratory trying to discover a vaccine. This story suffers from being in the same box set as Dragonsfield which is a much better story, rendering The Deadly Air a repetitive episode.

The story is okay, but it pales in comparison to Dragonsfield which has more suspense and more interesting characters. This adventure by comparison is an average story with a few good moments.

Overall, this is a good set in what’s been a good series. The Lost Episodes has filled a big hole in the history of one the 1960s most beloved and iconic programs with superb acting, good writing, and a dedication to authenticity.

Overall rating for this box set: 3.75 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: The Line Up

The Line Up is a noir film based on the 1954-60 TV series of the same name (later syndicated as San Francisco Beat.) The film begins with an exciting scene where a cabbie flees police and drives erratically until he’s shot. Lieutenant Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and the police discover a smuggling ring which smuggles heroin through the baggage of innocent people and then retrieves the heroin from them.

There are two basic reasons to see this film:

The first are the stars are not the police but the villains. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is a psychopathic gangster and is assisted by his wiser mentor Julian (Robert Keith) in collecting the drugs and disposing of those who know too much which turns out to be most people.

Unlike in an earlier era where these two would walk around sounding dopey, Dancer and Julian are constantly well-spoken, polite, even friendly when the job calls for it. However, in an instant, they turn deadly. Julian sums up Dancer well, “There’s never been a guy like Dancer. He’s a wonderful, pure pathological study. He’s a psychopath with no inhibitions.” Wallach makes the character very believable and menacing.

Johnny Dollar star Bob Bailey has one scene in this film as a finger man telling Dancer who the drugs had been smuggled in with. It’s a decent performance.

Also, though he only appeared in one scene where he barely spoke, Vaughn Taylor turns in a memorable performance as the drug kingpin, “The Man.” It’s practically an acting clinic on how much can be communicated using only facial expressions.

The second big reason to see this is San Francisco. So much of the movie is shot on location in the City by the Bay. The locations aren’t only good looking but they’re used in some innovative ways in the story. It really makes for a unique look.

The film’s biggest issue is the police characters. The film’s intent was to rope in the 30 million fans of the TV series, “The Line Up,” which is why stars of that series were brought in. However, these scenes are the least interesting in the film. Not bad per se, just obligatory. Policework can be interesting in a Noir film (see: He Walked by Night) but it doesn’t happen here.

In addition to the trailer, the DVD release includes a kind of interesting special feature with Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan discussing how the NOIR genre influenced him. I was surprised that this film had a commentary track, but listening to it, I found it a bit unpleasant as one of the commentators was just randomly foul-mouthed rather than insightful or funny.

Overall, The Line-Up is a solid film and there’s much to recommend it to those who love Noir films, San Francisco, or Bob Bailey. Ironically, the only thing you won’t get out of it is a sense what the classic radio series the Line Up looked like on film.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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