The History of Radio Drama 2

The Rise of the Radio Telephone

Welcome Subscribers!

Before we dive into the this weeks main article, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome you to our new Newsletter home ‘Substack’. As a subscriber, you will get our articles earlier than the general public, delivered straight to your inbox. Add to that, a special post that the general public don’t get, where the team reveal what they’ve been listening to over the last week.

The History of Radio Drama 2

The Rise of the Radio Telephone

In my last post, I discussed the original audio drama system, and huge hit, the Théâtrophone. Bringing live shows and opera into the homes of people, for a small additional fee, via the telephone system… (sound familiar?)

At the end of the 19th century, Marconi had been granted a patent for his wireless telecommunication system. Progress on his system was quite slow to start, with only a little amateur and commercial broadcasting taking it up. But with America joining World War One however, these stations were ordered to shut down or were taken over by the government. In fact for the duration of the Great War it was illegal for any US citizen to own a radio transmitter.

Large government investment accelerated its development and production for military communications in the field to great effect.

Immediately after the war and the lifting of restrictions, the US saw a rise in amateur broadcasting and listening, mainly in peer to peer circles talking about the advances in radio transmission such as the all new thermionic vacuum tube, the invention of which in 1904 revolutionised radio, television, telecommunications, and computing.

Within two years, radio sets, or ‘Radio Telephones’ as they were known then, were commonplace, and commercial radio broadcasting quickly became the preferred choice for news and entertainment. This left the Théâtrophone floundering on the riverbank of entertainment, and obsolete within a decade.


Commonly given the title of first ever English speaking audio drama, was a program called ‘A Rural Line in Education’. This small sketch was aired in 1921, on Newsradio 1020 KDKA from Pittsburgh.

The sketch featured the sound effects of a phone ringing, and a brief conversation between two farmers occasionally interrupted by a switchboard operator.

According to radio historian Bill Jaker, the station didn’t want them to use the telephone sound effects, because they thought it would ‘defraud the audience into thinking they were listening to a phone call, and not a radio program’.

Soon after KYW, another Westinghouse Electric Corporation station, this time in Chicago, broadcast a season of opera. The Chicago Tribune boasted ‘50,000 listen to opera, transmitted over 1,500 miles’.


In February of 1922, the company playing the musical comedy ‘Tangerine’ on Broadway, headed out to the Westinghouse’s Newark radio station, WJZ, and test broadcast to ‘1 million listeners across America’.

A week later WJZ broadcast Ed Wynn’s Broadway show ‘The Perfect Fool’ in its entirety, across America. Radio stations all over stopped broadcasting their own shows to help boost the signal if the weather was bad.

Radio entertainment had sparked the people’s imagination, and soon radio stations were broadcasting operas, musicals, and plays right across the globe, as we will discover in the next post.

This brand new medium was not without its naysayers however. Talk of ‘destroying theatre’, and vaudeville managers creating contracts that forbade actors from taking part in radio programs, gives us a glimpse into how the wireless telephone was shaking the foundations of the arts.

The Podern Playlist

Week ending 10/3/19

Welcome to this weeks playlist! We hope you’ve had a wonderful week filled with fun, happiness and of course podcasts, Here’s what some of the crew have been listening to.

Lex Scott

I had a ludicrously packed week this week, so I haven’t had a chance to listen to my usual playlist. I did of course listen to Write Along ep. 19, where the pair answer a few emails and discuss the elements of a great ending. From Small Beans I listened to Pop culture petri dish, this episode being on sci fi economies, and What Dinosaur Real Good came back to discuss the “prehistoric meth-turkey” Hesperonychus. And as I do when times get tough, I re-listened to an old favourite from The Fall of the house of sunshine: The ballad of GG scrumptious prts 1-2.

Matthew William

This week I listened to the Ringer Podcast Network’s ‘Rewatchables discussion of ‘Reality Bites. It was nice to hear them have so much admiration for the film as a sort of flagship for Generation X, but if I have to hear one more person say that Winona Ryder’s character should have chosen the Ben Stiller character at the end of the movie, I’m going to lose my shit. Doesn’t anyone believe in chemistry!?


This week I picked up a show that I ran into entirely by chance on my Twitter feed. I Am In Eskew is a surreal horror presented in such  a vague and foreboding way I couldn’t ignore and I had myself hooked the second I read the premise. “I Am In Eskew” promises “a city of nightmares, horrors and shifting streets” and it couldn’t be more right with its stellar description that rivals the authentic horror of “SABLE” and depravity that has a manga fan like myself imagining it all in excruciatingly detailed Junji Ito illustrations.


I decided to check out Wondery’s new show ‘Over My Dead Body’ top see what all the fuss is about. From the creators of similar shows Dr. Death and Dirty John, it’s what I expected; a voyeuristic look into the life, marriage and divorce from hell between two lawyers.

More up my street is the new show ‘Conflicted.’ Aimen Dean, an ex-Al Qaeda jihadist turned MI6 spy, and Thomas Small, take a look at the history and reality of the Middle East conflict starting with 9/11.

Alex C. Telander

The week kicked off with a new Far Meridian that introduced a very interesting character with some powerful abilities. I started a new show called Death by Dying which hooked me from the very beginning with great writing and superior production. 12:37 dropped its first few episodes as we enter the world of a time traveling train (ED: For some reason this really reminded me of an old book “The Homeward Bounders”). The Box dropped two big episodes this week and both were amazing! A new episode of Caravan brought the listener deeper into this fascinating world. And finally the Strange Case of Starship Iris dropped their long and thrilling season one finale, with a great ending!

Please feel free to share the shows you’ve been enjoying this last week in the comments below, let’s share the podlove far and wide!

We’ll see you again next Friday. Until then we hope you have a great week!

The world of podcasting has been growing for a few years now, and audio drama, what was once the niche of small independent production teams with little or no budget, has started to draw interest from the mainstream production houses. If you are new to ‘audio fiction’ and would like to check it out, (trust me it’s worth it!) then here’s a handy little link to some of the shows we have reviewed already. There’s sure to be something there for your taste.