Wednesday, April 30, 2008
New Tech/Old Radio
From the 1930's through the 1950's music was but one of the programming formats heard on the radio. In the era before television, there were variety shows, situation comedies, soap operas, crime dramas, mysteries, horror and suspense anthologies, and more.
I recently subscribed to the "Lone Ranger" podcast and started enjoying tales from "those thrilling days of yesteryear" as I made my daily commute.
Some folks wonder how I could possibly listen to a story without any kind of visuals, or even what the appeal would be. Well, it's quite simple. I just appreciate the art for what it is -- not what it isn't.
A radio drama has to communicate all the action with either words or sound effects. And there's decidedly an art to it. The sound effects have to sound natural, yet unambiguous. A narrator can set the stage, but if they're used too much they become intrusive. Dialogue can help communicate action, but again, if not smoothly integrated it can actually interrupt the story.
Listen to this excerpt from the "Lone Ranger" episode, "Confederate Money," first aired May 20, 1938. In this extended sequence, the Lone Ranger's helping two down-and-out Confederate veterans. They've been hired to collect taxes from ranchers who've killed off their predecessors rather than pay.
The Lone Ranger, knowing that Bolivar Bates and Hacksaw Hastings are but minutes behind him, enters the rancher's home posing as a robber. He then pretends to be interrupted by the arrival of the two men and hides behind a door. The Lone Ranger deliberately leaves the rancher with but one choice: give the money to the tax collectors, or refuse them and have it stolen (OK, some with modern sensibilities might say its the same thing).
Did you hear it? Lee's voice changed to indicate when the Lone Ranger was outside the door, and when he came in. Also, notice that none of the actor's voices share exactly the same range -- it's easy to tell them apart. They also call each other by name more than they would in normal conversation (or in a film), but just enough to help guide the listener.
And how about the characters of Bolivar and Hacksaw? Their voices are distinctive enough to help the listener conjure up their appearance.
Is the Lone Ranger great art? No, but it's solid entertainment. And because I have to imagine the action, it uses a different set of mental muscles than watching TV does. I'm happy to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear (and yes, this was way before I was born). And I'm glad a very modern technology (podcasting) makes it easy to do so.
BTW - you can listen to the entire episode here.