Friday, March 7, 2008


No excuses for not updating sooner.

I've been doing a lot of repetitive kinds of tasks at work over the past few weeks. No complaints. It's good to be busy at work. But not a lot of brain-power has been required. I found a radio station on i-Tunes that plays old radio shows. Amazing how many of the comedy shows aren't funny anymore and how many comedies and dramas both are incredibly racist--don't get me started on The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel. But the storytelling aspect is interesting.

There are three shows that I particularly like. One is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar about a freelance insurance investigator. It's a fifteen minute show. Each story takes a week to tell. Johnny is reporting on his expense account and why he's incurring the expenses. Of course, he tells about how he figures out what actually happened, too.

Another is Suspense. It's an anthology style show. Some of the biggest names of the time are involved. I've heard James Stewart, William Powell, Cary Grant, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Fontaine, etc. The stories range from mysteries, horror and straight drama. But all are supposed to be suspenseful. Some work better than others.

One thing that is common to both of these shows is the combination of narration and dialogue. And the stories are told not shown. There is very little description of setting. You might get an occasional "It was a muggy night" or "The ramshackle house" but not much else. Still I have a very specific idea of what Johnny Dollar looks like. And, of course, I'm familiar with most of the actors on Suspense so I can picture them. But I see the settings in both shows too. Even though they aren't described in any detail. But if it takes place in a rural setting then I have a catalogue in my head I can access for rural settings. English manor house? Same thing. California ranch? You get the idea.

The third show I like is Lux Radio Theater. Another anthology program. But this one takes stage plays and movies and distills them into an hour-long radio play. I've heard a couple from movies that I'm familiar with. Suspicion and Sorry, Wrong Number. It's interesting to see how they took a two-hour movie and boiled it down to under an hour (commericals, you know) without losing anything. Again, setting suffers. But they still work.

I'm a writer who loves setting the stage. I think it can help set the mood. Not just spooky old houses, but details like faded floral wallpaper can tell you a lot about the person who owns the house in three little words. Mary and Moe really set scenes. And I love their work. I'm there. Everyone else uses varying amounts of stage dressing. And it seems to work well, too. So why is that? Is it genre? Style? Don't know.

My other question is, if these radio plays work so well with telling rather than showing, why don't books?


I'm out of town next week and may or may not check in.


Courtney Suzanne said...

I listen to a lot of radio shows on BBC radio. They still make dramas and comedies for radio over there, and most of them are really good. They also re-run a lot of old shows from the 50's and 60's.

Ali said...

Voices tend to pull us in. Ask any eavesdropper.

The One and Only John said...

Radio shows tell better because that's all they can do, is tell. There's nothing to show with. It's a different form of oral storyTELLING.

Apples and Oranges.

Mishell said...

I agree with Ali. It's the oral nature of the genre. Radio shows are a cross between film and written word. Film can show the best because it's a visual medium, and the written word has to work the hardest to show because it's more of a cerebral experience. Radio falls in between. It's not visual, but it fools us with the sound effects and the "Oh my God, John. It's a giant spider. It's going to eat us!" She screams. It's all slight of hand. Brilliant!