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Radio Drama

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

By John C. Alsedek:

Hello, and welcome! My name’s John C. Alsedek, and I’m a radio drama producer based in Los Angeles. Along with Dana Perry-Hayes, I produce the award-winning radio anthology series SUSPENSE, a revival (same name, new stories) of the classic radio series from the 1940’s & 1950’s. We’ve been doing our revival since 2012; it has aired on over 300 radio stations worldwide, and the podcast version averages nearly a quarter-million listeners monthly.

Every other week, I’ll be writing on some topic related to radio drama—or at least our version of it. The connection may not always be readily apparent, but it’ll make sense (hopefully, anyway!) by the end of each column. Sometimes, it’ll be about an influential TV show, film, or radio program. Sometimes, it’ll be about an actor of note, or a composer, or a writer. Sometimes, it’ll be a look inside how radio drama is done. But for the very first one of these, it seems appropriate to tell you about my very first exposure to radio drama. . . .

In the spring of 1974, I was a wide-eyed nine-year-old who already had a fascination with horror and science fiction. My very first memory was of watching the gothic soap opera ‘Dark Shadows’; my Saturday TV schedule revolved around the Philadelphia-based horror host Doctor Shock, who aired ‘Mad Theater’ in the afternoon and ‘Horror Theater’ in the evening; and I’d recently discovered ‘Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.’ But it was sheer chance and a newly acquired pocket transistor radio that led me to my next great discovery: the creaking door of ‘CBS Radio Mystery Theater.’

The 'CBS Radio Mystery Theater' was a throwback to the great radio anthology shows of the 1940’s such as the original ‘Suspense’ and ‘Inner Sanctum,’ and was produced by the latter program’s creator, Himan Brown. Hosted by E.G. Marshall (later by Tammy Grimes), it was part of a brief radio drama renaissance in the early/mid seventies and produced a staggering 1,399 episodes between 1974 and 1982 (for comparison, the original ‘Suspense’ produced 975 episodes over 20 years).

Of course, I didn’t know much of any of this at the time. All I knew was that the little radio I’d snuck into bed with me had suddenly and very unexpectedly taken me someplace wonderfully macabre, someplace I could envision however I wanted it because RADIO is ‘the theatre of the imagination.’ It began with a squeaking door, then the measured voice of Marshall and the timpani-heavy strains of the CBSRMT theme—a piece of music ‘Twilight Zone’ fans would likely recognize as Nathan Van Cleave’s memorable score for the classic Elizabeth Montgomery-Charles Bronson episode ‘Two.’ I couldn’t tell you much of what happened in a single episode, and a lot of the eps haven’t aged all that gracefully for one reason or another. But all I know is that from that night on, my mom never had any trouble getting me to go to bed on time . . . at least not until I discovered ‘The Twilight Zone’ in reruns on late night. But that’s a story for another time. . . .

Next week, I’ll walk you through the process of creating a typical episode of SUSPENSE, from concept to completion, and compare how we do it with how radio drama was done in the old days. Until then . . . to quote the late Mr. Marshall, “Good night, and pleasant . . . dreams?”

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