9 seminal moments and format types

The short history of audio formats. Image: The Short History of Stuff

Today we walked through some key moments in the history of audio storytelling. Here’s what we listened to:

1. Orson Welles — War Of The Worlds — Radio Broadcast 1938

As David Webb, who uploaded this to YouTube notes:

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated “news bulletins”, which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a ‘sustaining show’ (it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the program’s quality of realism. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated. In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program’s news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode secured Orson Welles’ fame.

2. The London Blitz described by Edward R. Murrow

Murrow described the story of life in London during World War 2. This semi-improvised piece using great phrasing and natural sound to give us an insight into everyday life. Read the transcript here.

One of the strangest sounds one can hear in London these days — or rather these dark nights — just the sound of footsteps walking along the streets, like ghosts shod with steel shoes. A taxi draws up just in front and stops, just waiting for that red light to change to green while the siren howls.

3. President Kennedy assassination

We tend to think of the Walter Kronkite TV news report when considering this story. But, for many people, radio would have been where they turned to hear about the development of this story.

4. Radio dramatization

Fictional podcasts have started to emerge as a popular format in the US recently, a genre which harkens back to the golden age of radio (see Welles’ War of the Worlds). BBC Radio has long dramatized books and showcased new works written especially for the radio. Here’s one example that I really like, an adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel Fatherland.

5. Ricky Gervais podcast

Later turned into an HBO animated series, but initially a podcast sponsored by the Guardian newspaper. Gervais was one of the first people to show that comedy could be a popular genre for podcasting. A regular feature on the series was “Monkey News.” This example gives you a flavor of the show.

HBO in 2011, when announcing a third series of their animated show, noted:

On March 19, the podcast on which THE RICKY GERVAIS SHOW is based reportedly passed the 300 million download mark. The podcast held the record for most downloaded podcast in the 2005 edition of the “Guinness Book Of Records,” when the total per episode was in the hundreds of thousands, and holds the record for most-downloaded podcast or audiobook today.

6. Lolita Wolf: The Kinky Lover

The New York Times’ series “One in 8 Million” used audio slideshows to tell the stories of New Yorkers.

We listened to the experience of Lolita Wolf:

Image via NYT
“For 22 years, Ms. Wolf, now 53, has been active in New York’s B.D.S.M. scene — bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.”

7. Marc Maron WTF President Obama Interview

A big moment for the podcast genre, when the most powerful man in the world agreed to chat to Marc Maron in the comedian’s garage. The interview is intimate, funny and revealing, in equal measure. Catch the full podcast, from June 2015, here.

8. Hidden stories: StoryCorps

StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 60,000 interviews from more than 100,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on StoryCorps’ Listen Page.

We listened to the experience of Tracy Johnson and Sandra Johnson.

As their website notes:

North Carolina National Guardsman Tracy Johnson (left) is an Iraq war veteran and an Army widow. She is also believed to be the first gay spouse to lose her partner at war since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
StoryCorps MVI: Tracy Johnson and Sandra Johnsonbeta.prx.org

9. The radio call-in show

In a look ahead to our class on Wednesday, we listened to a short exchange from the BBC’s Jeremy Vine show.

Two callers to Jeremy Vine — one Leaver and one Remainer — square up on air the day after the Brexit referendum result.