A forefront in the aftermath?
Recorded sound and the state of audio play on post-‘golden age’ US network radio
in Tuning in to the neo-avant-garde
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Redressing a critical neglect, this chapter examines the extent of innovation achieved by plays broadcast on US network radio during the 1950s in light of two developments: advances in sound recording and editing technology, which ended three decades of live radio drama, and the establishment of television as the main medium for commercially sponsored home entertainment. These developments curtailed radio drama production, but they also gave rise to an enthusiastically received form of ‘non-acted’ play: the taped documentary. The 1956–57 revival of the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Radio Workshop, the last of the networks’ play anthologies, demonstrates how magnetic tape enhanced the realism and diversified the subject matter of earlier, studio-bound re-enactments of events without requiring their creators to abandon conventional modes of storytelling. Even as national broadcasters learned to target audiences with recorded music packaged as disc jockey programmes, they failed to create a niche for alternatives to the radio theatricals that television suggested to be outmoded. Acknowledging the system in which plays for radio are embedded, contextual readings enable us to appreciate how and why network radio’s controlled experiments differ from the avant-garde sound art emerging after the Second World War via alternative channels and media.

Tuning in to the neo-avant-garde

Experimental radio plays in the postwar period

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