Podcasts vs Radio

I’m a creative in my 20s who doesn’t have a single solid full-time job. So, obviously, I’m working on a podcast with one of my friends.

Ours is a fiction-based scripted podcast rather than one of those ‘sit-around-a-table-and-talk’ types, so don’t worry, my pointless ramblings are still a TallHawkTalks exclusive. But this type of project meant that we needed to discuss things like the tone and structure, which got me thinking about the conventions of radio plays and podcasts. I thought for this week’s blog post, seeing as December is such a busy month, I’d just share a couple of those thoughts.

Firstly, radio shows, the oldest version of this genre. These days most of the scripted radio shows in Britain (apart from The Archers) are sitcoms. They share a lot of conventions with TV studio sitcoms, and are also generally recorded in front of a live audience. Listening to one of these radio sitcoms feels a little like watching a TV show with your eyes shut – it’s dialogue and sound effects, maybe some ambient sound, and the scene structure is basically the same. The writing of the dialogue is approached differently, though, since you need to fill in a little more context without a character outright stating ‘We’re standing in a field’, for example.

If something is called an ‘audio drama’, its production values will probably be a lot higher. In a medium that is purely sound-based, higher quality means making use of things like soundscapes to fully immerse the listener in the scene. A soundscape is similar to ambient sound, but the next level – there’s a sound-bed of the environment, with other sounds that the characters would be hearing layered over the top. In really high-budget productions, like the new Wolverine drama from Marvel, this might also include 360° sound which requires headphones to fully appreciate. In TV terms, think of the difference between a studio sitcom and a gritty crime drama, which tends to be how the genres play out in audio form as well (there’s another blog post there about the perceived value of different genres, as well as between TV and film, but I’ll save it for another day). Audio dramas also borrow more from the structure of novels, and so are more likely than radio shows to have a narrator.

Then, there’s the more modern phenomenon of fiction podcasts. Conventionally speaking, they could be considered somewhere between a radio show and an audio drama. It’s common for podcasts to have an in-universe reason for their existence. For example, in Welcome to Nightvale, Greater Boston, and many, many others, the podcast is a radio station for a fictional location. In Ars Paradoxica, the protagonist is a scientist who records her notes, and, similarly, The Bright Sessions features the recorded therapy sessions of the characters. This convention is partly due to following the example set by pioneers of the genre, and partly because of the format; podcasts usually continue indefinitely, and something like a radio show has more mileage than a traditionally structured narrative.

As for our own production, it will be hosted and streamed as a podcast, but formatted like an audio drama – that is, it will be a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ scenario for events that aren’t being canonically recorded. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce it officially some time in 2019.

Do you listen to audio fiction? Do you have any stylistic preferences? Let me know down below, or chat to me over on my Twitter.

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