The Magical World of Audio Dramas
Aka Audio Books on Steroids
Do you like listening to audio books?
Do you like podcasts with multiple speakers and sound effects?
What if I told you that there's a whole genre of audio art that merges these two forms together to make amazing masterpieces. They're called "audio dramas" - sometimes also called "radio plays" - and they are the love child of plays, novels, movies, and podcasts merged together.
I don't think enough people know about the world of audio dramas. Sure, pretty much everyone and their mother has heard of podcasts (and nearly everyone and their mother has a podcast nowadays), but the term "audio drama" might slip past the average listener.
But did you know that one of the first major forms of entertainment of the 20th century came from radio plays? Before every home had a television, the majority of households across the US and Europe had radios. And so production companies like the BBC (which still produce several radio dramas every year), ABC, and CBS put on live productions of novels and plays that were adapted specifically for radio.
You might have heard of the infamous broadcast of the "War of the Worlds" by Orson Welles. It was aired on October 30th, 1938 as a Halloween special for CBS. The original story had been written by H.G. Wells nearly 50 years prior and Orson Welles decided to adapt it into the form of a news broadcast. He did his job a bit too well because listeners who tuned in mid-show actually thought there was an alien invasion happening across the country. Radio was the main way to receive news back then and, even though it might seem ridiculous to those of us in the 21st century, people in 1938 legitimately thought the nation was under attack because they had no way to know otherwise. The radio play unintentionally caused mass hysteria and launched Orson Welles' career at the same time. Bad press is better than no press, right?
Well the tradition of audio dramas and radio plays have continued for the last 100 years and have endured despite visual mediums being the main form of entertainment.
If you've never heard of audio dramas, I have provided a couple recommendations that I personally have devoured and returned to on multiple occasions. Listening to these tales acted out and mixed with music and sound effects truly make them a theater for the mind.
Please note that I am totally and unappologetically biased toward horror audio dramas. So several of my recommendations here will be from that genre. But there is an audio drama for every single genre. I'm talking romance, fantasy, drama, true crime, military, sci-fi, etc. If you love a genre, there is an audio drama for you.
Sci-fi but so much more. Wolf 359 was one of the first "big time" audio dramas to air in the late 2010's and was a hit among listeners.
"WOLF 359 is a radio drama in the tradition of Golden Age of Radio shows. Set on board the U.S.S. Hephaestus space station, the dysfunctional crew deals with daily life-or-death emergencies, while searching for signs of alien life and discovering there might be more to their mission than they thought.
Tune into your home away from home... seven and a half light years away from Earth..."
This show started off in short burst segments (around 10 min each episode) until it really hit its stride in the 2nd season. Then it became a full-blown epic with espionage and conspiracies and all kinds of wonderful action/adventure fun.
Definitely check this out if you like any kind of sci-fi at all and especially if you love claustrophibic tension and the detatched rag-tag crew turned family trope.
The History of the Devil
Clive Barker will forever and always be one of my favorite authors, directors, and artists. He's one of those people that can do no wrong in my book and I love nearly everything he touches. He has been my inspiration and my guiding flame to continue making art and writing and to keep being me no matter what people say or do.
"The History of the Devil" is not my favorite work by Clive Barker, but it is a great production with a great cast and a great story.
The Devil is on trial and we, humanity, are his defenders, his prosecutors, his judge, his jury, and his witnesses. He has lived among us for millenia and now it's time to see if he is guilty or innocent of the crimes laid against him. We get to experience snippets of time through the Devil's eyes so he can lay out his case. And the real question is if the Devil is really on trial or if it is humanity?
Dylan Baker is fantastic as Satan and delivers a performance of both malevolence and persuasion. The sound design truly transports you into the deserts of Africa, where the trial takes place, and then sweeps you off to various destinations as the trial goes on.
Despite the religous nature of the story, this is definitely a tale and a production that poses a lot of great questions about humanity and what it means to be human.
If you've seen the Amazon TV show "Good Omens" and you've read the book "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, you'll definitely want to check out this adaptation.
Produced by the BBC several years before the Amazon TV series was released, it is a fantastic dramatization that brings "Good Omens" to life in a way that the TV show just can't.
Now don't get me wrong. I love David Tenant and Michael Sheen in the TV series. And I think there is an adaptation specifically for Audible where they resprised their roles for the audiobook.
But Peter Serafinowicz as Crowley and Mark Heap as Aziraphale are excellent in their roles and embody the characters perfectly for this particular adaptation. They're not "ineffible husbands" like Tenant and Sheen's versions of the characters, but they're very true to the source material.
War of the Worlds (1938 Broadcast)
And here it is. The one that started it all.
Well, it almost did. Radio plays had been around for the better part of two decades before "War of the Worlds" was released, but this is the most infamous of them. Again, this is the broadcast that really launched Orson Welles' career so he could go on to make "Citizen Kane" and "Touch of Evil."
This drama takes the original concept of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and adapts it for the modern times of the 1930s. A spacecraft crashes in the middle of a Pennsylvania farm and scientists and police and the national guard all come out to investigate.
And then the tripod rises from the wreckage and reeks havoc on the unsuspecting nation.
Listeners in 2022 might have problems connecting with the narrative because of the audio recording quality, but if you can suspend your disbelief for an hour, it will truly be worth your time. And as an added bonus, play it on October 30th in honor of the original broadcast.
King Falls AM
This show first aired in 2015 and concluded in 2021 and let me tell you that it was one helluva 6 year run.
Again, this show started off innocent enough: two late night AM show hosts, Sammy and Ben, broadcast from their tiny radio station in King Falls, Colorado. They receive listener calls through the night from the residents of King Falls who are a lively bunch to say the least.
This show dives deep into conspiracies around the town. Did aliens visit the town? What's the local church up to with its weird pamphlets and conversion tactics? Are those werewolves in the woods or just rednecks? What about the mysterious "descendent" of the town founder who totally looks like his relative and may in fact be a vampire? Why are people going missing?
This show honestly ended too soon, but all good things must come to an end eventually. Definitely give it a listen if you like just kooky, crazy, wild, totally out there conspiracy theories and mystery solving.
This is another old time broadcast from CBS and is one of my favorites. Originally airing in 1949, this radio play follows Smiley Smith as he goes on a ghost hunt with a psychic. The two venture to an allegedly haunted house where several people have killed themselves by jumping off the cliffs the house is built on.
Things do not go to plan and the two end up seeing and hearing very spooky things. The ending is my favorite part of this and the actor who plays Smiley does a fantastic job. I don't want to truly spoil the ending and even if you kind of know where it's going, the actor gives such a great performance that it's worth it.
"Ghost Hunt" is the grandpappy of found footage horror that got a resurgance in the early 2000's.
Scary Stories Told in the Dark
Since this series is narrated by only one actor, the great Otis Jiry, it is technically not an audio drama, but I still wanted to include it here.
Otis takes creepypastas from around the internet and narrates them like he's your grandpa telling you a spooky tale.
Some of the stories are meh, but a couple gems - like the one below - are absolutely haunting.
Again, not an audio drama, but I needed to give Otis a shoutout because there are a lot of creepypasta narrators out there and he is my favorite.
Saved the best for last.
I am a devout Neil Gaiman fan and "Sandman" was the first graphic novel series I ever read. It is still my favorite graphic novel 15 years later. It has changed my perception of religion and deities and how I view stories and myths and everything. I mean, "American Gods" did that too, but "Sandman" was the O.G.
However, when I found out it was going to be adapted to an audio drama, I was massively skeptical. How can a graphic novel, which is pretty much exclusively a visual medium, convert to audio? Sure, I love pretty much everything that Neil Gaiman touches (with the exception of the "American Gods" TV series) so I figured I'd give it a listen.
They did a beyond amazing job with this series! I had goosebumps the entire time listening to each episode. I mean the whole kit and cabootle of goosebumps and jitters and bouncing in my seat. The casting is amazing and the sound effects and score and narration (by Neil himself, of course) are all amazing.
James McAvoy as Dream made me fall in love with the character all over again. He was also in the BBC audio adaptation of "Neverwhere" and did great in that, but as Dream...I have no words to truly express the depth he brings to the character.
This is definitely not a series for the faint of heart. There is a lot in "Sandman" that can be jarring and graphic and hard to listen to at times. With hearing some of the things that happen instead of seeing those same things, it takes on a whole other level of intimacy. For me, because I hear it, I am more connected to it and really put myself in the story.
They are adapting "Sandman" to a TV series on Netflix later this year and that I am super nervous about. Not because of the casting controversies that a lot of people are so mad about, but because how can the TV show even begin to compare? I'll still watch the show, but this adaptation has set a bar that will be near impossible to reach.
You'll want to listen to any and all of these with headphones. The experience is more palpable when the sounds are able to touch your ear directly.
For some of these (like "Ghost Hunt" and "History of the Devil") I recommend closing your eyes if you can. To just let the story and the sounds embrace you and transport you into their world.
If you have any audio dramas that you love, please share them in the comments below. I would love to hear what you are listening to.
About the Creator
Content Moderator @ Creatd (NASDAQ: CRTD)
Writer of horror fiction 🥰👻
Favorite novels and main source of inspiration are:
- Don Quixote by Don Miguel Cervantes
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Michelle - May I say the best part of the story was the 'Story Teller!' With all of the 'props' they still didn't hide your Schtick. Get back to your writing - featuring you! Jay Kantor 'Senior' Vocal Author
I used to listen to a radio drama called Sunday Suspense in my native language (Bengali) when I was a child. However, I never got into it as an adult. This story might change that because I was hooked from the very beginning. I found the bit about Orson Well's accidental rise to fame especially interesting.
Oh my word, that "Ghost Hunt" link is my new favorite thing in the world, thank you so much for this! When I was 9 or 10 my dad bought me a small tape deck, the long and flat kind that was mostly speaker, and an odd assortment of cassette tapes to play upon it. One of them was a collection of Old-Time Radio shows -- Abbott & Costello, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen -- for which, even at so young an age, I had an immediate affinity. I played that tape literally to death, wearing it thin and then broken beneath the constant friction of the playhead, and have never been able to find its exact replacement. "Ghost Hunt" scratches that itch perfectly! Also: 100% Agree on the Clive Barker fandom, he is tied with science fiction author and father of cyberpunk William Gibson as God in my Favorite Author Valhalla. I'll have to write a short piece on my Barker collection, with photos, and post it here.