Week 1



Radio's great strength is the unique flexibility of the medium, and its appeal to the imagination.  As an invisible medium, it also presents the challenges of signifying location, action, and character identity and has developed its own conventions to resolve these issues, inviting the listener to explore soundscapes and acoustic space.


The Listening Experience

In 1922, when the BBC was still the British Broadcasting Company  junior producer Cedric Maud and his assistant Grace Wise first proposed the idea of a play to be performed on the newly available wireless sets, They approached the theatre impresario Nigel Playfair. Ron Hutchinson imagines the encounter in his 2022 play A Leap in the Dark


A Leap in the Dark 


Grace gets the essence of radio drama. It’s in your head. It’s all in the mind. Listening to radio drama is an intimate experience – in that the listener is required to interiorise the re-presentation of “ the radio world” through recognition of a complex interplay of codes and conventions. 


The Invisible Medium

The first BBC  drama specially written for radio was Richard Hughes  play ‘Danger’ in 1923, in which a group of tourists are trapped in a mine. This 2023 version, which updates the setting and characters exploits the invisibility of the medium.




 Radio Drama and Imagination

'The pictures are better on radio.' Angela Carter’s ‘Come Unto These Yellow Sands’ is a play about the Victorian artist Richard Dadd who had a mental breakdown, killed his father and was confined to an asylum where he painted pictures of fairyland. In this scene one of the pictures is talking to us.


Come Unto These Yellow Sands


The Freedom of Radio  Drama

You can explore every kind of possibility without relying on CGI - as in this dystopian drama by Anita Sullivan.




Radio Drama - A Writer's Medium

It is language that is the primal element in creating an immersive environment for the listener. The poet Dylan Thomas used its evocative potential in this memorable production from 1954.


Under Milk Wood





Because radio drama is a writer’s medium, the verbal text that anchors the soundscape carries the biggest burden of representing the whole world-of-the-play.  


In addition to the exposition of back-story and plot, the writer has challenges that are peculiar to radio:


Representing unseen action through dialogue or narration
Representing visual elements (characters’ appearances, mise-en-scene, signposting locations)
Representing time compression - transition; back-story, flash-back, flash forward.





The Radio Drama Script

The layout conventions for radio scripts are simpler and  less prescriptive  than for film and TV,  so it’s possible to write them with ordinary word processing packages. However, specialist software like Scrivener will  adjust margins and punctuation to follow the standard BBC format.  Examples of this  can be found on the BBC Writers Room website.



Dialogue - dialogue as exposition;  dialogue  must  identify names, relationships,  visual features of characters and locations (dialogue as mise-en-scene) and action ; vocabulary and syntax can also identify  region, nationality, class, period, personality. 


Limitations of radio dialogue re action, multiple characters  in a single scene.


Mode of address – voice-over by omniscient narrator ?  by unreliable narrator? direct address by first-person protagonist ? Dramatic monologue?  Internalised voice(s) – heard only by protagonist?  Multiple direct address (competing POV?)    Or is the narrative carried wholly through dialogue?  


Accent  - another index of region,  class, period. The “grain of the voice'


Silence and Sub Text– use of silence exemplifies the “invisibility” of radio - reinforces the sense of enigma, creating suspense, ambiguity, tension, reflection.


Sound Effects

The primary role of sound effects in radio drama is signposting location and/or signifying action.  But they also carry symbolic connotations and emotive significance.    .



Signposting is the technique for establishing the location at the beginning of a scene. This is done by effects, spot or FX, and sometimes backed by description. 
 Most often these effects or spot are introduced (faded in) at the top of the scene, before the dialogue begins.  Signposting has the same function as the establishing shot in film and TV.)


Because music carries so many powerful emotive and cultural connotations, it often plays a key part in radio drama. It can reinforce (or ironically counterpoint) the meaning of the spoken text.  


Non-diegetic music  - signature/theme tunes; filmic soundtrack music under dialogue; music beds under monologue; music bridges between scenes;  music stings and jingles  including station idents and branding


Diegetic music - music in the world-of-the play as ambient  ( music on the radio, juke box, hi fi,  band in a bar, night at the opera)  or a narrative device ( songs within a play) which may develop storyline and character interaction; internalised music – heard by the protagonist.


Sound and Editing

The acoustics of a space (cathedral reverb, stuffy drawing room, bathroom echo) are key signifiers of location.   Some studios are dedicated to reproducing particular acoustics, but many directors prefer to work in a totally neutral acoustic, which can be altered in post-production.


As portable recorders have improved, some directors have preferred to record plays on location using boom mics or radio mics as “audio cameras” to track the movement of the actors as they speak.



Montage in radio terms  is “ a rapid sequence of cross-faded or straight-cut ‘segments”  – often layered over sound or music beds.  Although montage may  be executed on the digital work station, it’s often part of the writer’s conception in the script.   Montage can signify time-compression, recapitulation, climax. It’s sometimes used  for dream/fantasy sequences.





The beginning of the play is crucially important. You need to hold the listener's attention and give them a sense of what might be happening... Find the MOMENT to join the story.


Choose one of the following options  - or use a idea you're already considering - and write the opening scene with sound cues (FX and/or music) and a few lines of dialogue that establish the basic situation and provoke the listener’s curiosity.  Don't worry too much about format at this stage.


1950s boys’ boarding school. Head master holds special assembly. Two boys talking at the back.

23rd century. The Interplanetary Parliament on Mars. An alien and a human in a dispute

1967. Suburban London. Lucy gets her A level results and tells Mum she’s come to a decision.

1970s. Northern Ireland. A funeral graveside. The service is disrupted by an incident.

Present day. At sea. Night. Father and child in a boat.

Present day. City, night, mysterious lights in the park. Two witnesses.

18th century. Female pirates establishing a colony.

Present day. Jungle. Night. Dan and Emma are escaping from someone/something.

80s Urban. Moving day. A couple are moving out and will be going their separate ways.

Edwardian era. Night. The old rectory/country house. Guests hear disturbing sounds.


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©Paul Green 2017