I love hearing a story. Maybe it’s some pre-adolescent hang-up from when I was read to, but I enjoy hearing a story even more than reading one. A good audio book mimics the experience of being read to, and a full-on audio drama builds upon that to create a fantastic experience.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful, free audio dramas in iTunes. From zombie horror to creative short fiction, I listen to all of it. Here’s a list of my favorite audio dramas. But first, a brief history.
How the Love Affair Started
I fell in love with audio drama in 1981 when National Public Radio (NPR) produced a radio version of Star Wars: A New Hope. Many of the actors from the movies reprised their roles, and the productions used sound effects and music from the film. Several scenes were expanded and new ones were added. For instance, there’s a lot of time spent with Luke and his friends.
It was released as a series and I hooked. I spent weeks sitting on the floor listening to the radio, as if it was 1949. They eventually did The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, too. When each was released on CD, I bought them as soon as I could. I still listen to them.
Years later I worked a 3:00 PM – 11:00 PM shift. This was pre-iPod so I filled my twenty-minute commute with the radio. While flipping around one night, I came across some old dramas. The production quality was poor and the stories dated, but I listened anyway and began to look forward to it every night.
Today, podcasting has made it so easy to find quality audio dramas. There are many out there, and my favorites are listed below. If you know of one that I ought to be listening to, let me know. For now, on with my list, which is in no particular order.
Boy, do I love this show. Now in its third season, We’re Alive tells the stories of people struggling to survive what can be described as a zombie apocalypse in and around Los Angeles. New episodes are typically released on Mondays. The story is broken into chapters, and each chapter has 3 episodes. Most are under 20 minutes long.
The acting, writing, production and foley work are all stellar. I truly care for the characters. The heroes are heroic and the villains are loathsome. You’ll find compelling plot twists and a real focus on story. If you’re after lumbering bad guys who simply want to eat brains, look elsewhere. We’re Alive is fantastic.
The Truth features anthology fiction that changes from week to week. The production is fantastic and professional. The actors are great and stories range from amusing and experimental to clever and touching.
One show featured dialog from two movies stitched together to create a novel narrative. Specifically, Legally Blonde and The Terminator. It was very funny and made weeding the garden — the chore I was doing while listening — less horrible. Another episode was about a cabbie who gets an unintended and life-changing earful from late-night passengers, one of whom has had one too many.
One of my favorites, Tape Delay, explores what might have happened if the first manned mission to the moon was unsuccessful. It was very well done.
The topics of this weekly show vary wildly. A new episode comes out each Friday and I look forward to it all week. As you’d expect from the BBC, the production and acting is off the charts. The stories are well written and acted, each suited perfectly to the medium. I just love it.
Some of my favorites don’t feature sound effects, foley work and large casts. Often a single voice can produce something magical. For instance:
I know what you’re going to say. “That’s the most pretentious show on the radio.” Well, fine. I can’t argue with that. Then call me a snooty jerk because I love it. Recorded live at Symphony Space in New York City, Selected Shorts features very gifted and popular actors reading some of the best short fiction you’ll ever hear. Actually, “reading” is the wrong word. Each story is performed. I adore Selected Shorts and hope to attend a taping some day.
Yes, it’s pretentious. But when it’s this this good it doesn’t matter.
A warning up front: this is a horror fiction podcast and some of the stories are gruesome. Plus, you never know what you’ll get from a given reader. They vary and some are better than others. However, I’ve found some real gems here, both in terms of story and performance. Almost all of the pieces are from amateur writers or those who’ve had limited publication. Again, not every week’s recording is a winner, but those that hit, hit hard. Horror fans will want to check it out.
In each episode of The Moth, a person stands in front of a small audience and tells a story. Often a true story from their life. The audience adds a whole new element to the performance and I really enjoy it. People have some amazing stories.
Finally, special mention goes to the Twilight Zone Radio Dramas which feature big-name actors in dramatized versions of episodes of The Twilight Zone. It’s very well done but not free, and limited to ’Zone fans.
There’s my list. I’m always looking for more so feel free to share what you’ve got. Comments are open.