Radio drama today
Radio drama remains popular in much of the world. Stations producing radio drama often commission a large number of scripts. The relatively low cost of producing a radio play enables them to take chances with works by unknown writers. Radio can be a good training ground for beginning drama writers as the words written form a much greater part of the finished product; bad lines cannot be obscured with stage business.
On the BBC there are two ongoing radio soap operas: The Archers on BBC Radio Four and Silver Street on the Asian Network. A third soap, Westway on the World Service was cancelled in October 2000 but continues in re-runs on BBC7.
The audio drama format exists side-by-side with books presented on radio, read by actors or by the author. In Britain and other countries there is also a quite a bit of radio comedy (both stand-up and sitcom). Together, these programs provide entertainment where television is either not wanted or would be distracting (such as while driving or operating machinery).
The lack of visuals also enable fantastical settings and effects to be used in radio plays where the cost would be prohibitive for movies or television. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was first produced as radio drama, and was not adapted for television until much later, when its popularity would ensure an appropriate return for the high cost of the futuristic setting.
On occasion television series can be revived as radio series. For example, a long-running but no longer popular television series can be continued as a radio series because the reduced production costs make it cost-effective with a much smaller audience. When an organisation owns both television and radio channels, such as the BBC, the fact that no royalties have to be paid makes this even more attractive. Radio revivals can also use actors reprising their television roles even after decades as they still sound roughly the same. Series that have had this treatment include Doctor Who, Dad's Army, Sapphire & Steel, The Tomorrow People, and Thunderbirds.
Radio dramas can be regularly heard on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Radio 1), on RTÉ in Ireland, and the BBC's Radio 4, Radio 3 and BBC 7. Radio 4 in particular is noted for its radio drama, broadcasting hundreds of one-off plays per year in strands such as The Afternoon Play, in addition to serials and soap operas. The British commercial station Oneword, though broadcasting mostly book readings, also transmits a number of radio plays in installments.
In the U.S., radio drama can be found on ACB radio produced by the American Council of the Blind and on XM Radio. The networks sometime sell transcripts of their shows on cassette tapes or CDs or make the shows available for listening or downloading over the Internet. Transcription recordings of many pre-television shows have been preserved. They are collected, re-recorded onto audio CDs and/or MP3 files and traded by hobbyists today as old-time radio programs. Meanwhile veterans such as Rasovsky and Lopez have gained new listeners on cassettes, CDs and downloads. In the mid-1980s, the non-profit L.A. Theatre Works launched its radio series recorded before live audience, which continues a tenuous hold in public radio, while marketing its productions on compact disk.
With 21st-century technology, modern radio drama, also known as audio theater, has begun an exciting new movement. Local radio drama groups such as Crazy Dog Audio Theatre (from Ireland), Texas Radio Theatre and FreeQuincy Radio Theater (from Wisconsin) have kept the spirit of radio drama alive. The advent of inexpensive computerized production technology brought an explosion of activity, of varying quality, beginning in the 1990s. Not From Space from Borgus Productions was the first national radio play recorded exclusively through the Internet in which the voice actors were all in separate locations. As the podcasting phenomenon continues to grow, radio drama has found a new lease of life on the Internet with specialist sites such as Dramapod.com becoming popular. Podcasting provides a good alternative to mainstream television and radio because it has no restrictions regarding content (as is evidenced by the ever growing Radio Onslaught).
Audio drama released directly to CD or cassette tape rather than being broadcast is a related format to radio drama. Particularly noteworthy are the superb dramatic productions of Focus on the Family and Canada's Children's Group. The advent of Podcasting has also brought a new renaissance in audio dramas. On November 7, 2004, The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd became the first regularly produced audio drama podcast. In July of 2006, Podshow released the audio mystery series Shadow Falls.