Pros and cons of writing for radio?

March 12, 2019
Bob Eckhard

We begin today with the skinny on:

how the screenplay you wrote years ago might fare better by being adapted to radio.

Often, screenwriters imagine radio to be the poor relation of other mediums such as film, television or stage. Certainly, with the audience limited to just one their five senses when listening to a radio drama, we might be forgiven for thinking it a lesser experience. And yet with the advent of podcasts, audiobooks, radio dramas (and many other non-narrative shows), radio has experienced a renaissance in the last 10 years, both product and audience figures. Indeed, it is not unusual for a radio drama broadcast on BBC  during a midweek afternoon slot to attract an audience of up to a million listeners – exceeding that which a stage play will achieve during a run that lasts the course of a year (or longer).

The thing to remember when writing a radio play is the use of audio sounds to describe to the audience that which they cannot see BUT can imagine! For example, the noise of pistons pumping away in a railway engine that has lost the use of its brakes with the engineers discussing how best to fix it. Or the gentle lapping of waves on a tropical beach with cicadas in the distance as an adulterous couple discuss their future once they return home. Or maybe a market in a North African town where the sounds of street sellers, camels and excitable bartering, mark the backdrop for a couple who push through in search for their kidnapped daughter.

In short, radio offers the writer the chance to reinterpret their hugely expensive (to make) screenplay as an auditory piece. That is, a radio play that will tell the exact same story with the exception that it will be imagined in a multitide of ways with no two the same. Who knows: if a huge success on radio, it might even  be picked up for television or screen?

Pros and Cons of Writing and producing

Pros

  • More chance of your radio play being performed (then your screenplay or TV series being picked up by producers)
  • Opportunity for a credit in radio writing and (later) directing if that’s where it leads.
  • A chance to hear what you’ve written being realised across the airwaves or on a podcast or whatever.
  • The radio play may serve as a forerunner for a TV or screenwriting idea that might develop out of it.
  • Cheap to make because it uses sound and imagination to move from Empire State Building to Space Station in the next scene at limited cost.
  • Opportunity to record the programme and send it to agents and would-be producers.
  • Chance for longer radio series to follow if producers and directors like your writing and can work with you.
  • Something tangible on your creative CV as you move from writer into production.
  • Can be rehearsed as a table read beforehand to ascertain viability as a production.

Cons

  • Time and money spent in buying a book on writing for radio?
  • Learning the format by reading radio scripts
  • Listening to radio plays to gain experience across the format
  • Using professional actors to table read and perhaps make a podcast complete with sound
  • Writing short and full-length radio dramas/comedy to develop and refine your craft.

And finally

the most important thing to remember

Great radio scripts make for great stories to listen to. So, before embarking on production, make sure everyone that reads your script and loves it. (And not just your best friend!)

 

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