"Hello, and welcome to Car Talk from National Public Radio, with us, Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers! Today on the show..."
Every Saturday morning at 10am, the wonderfully humorous voices of Tom and Ray Magliozzi would fill my home. Ever since I can remember my dad would crank up through Caroline Talk and I would be transported to the studio of these two gear-head brothers. Now, the show ran it's course from 1977 to 2012, and, sadly, Tom Magliozzi died back in 2014 due to his Alzheimer's, but reruns still play every Saturday and Sunday. This means that my dad, who's heard roughly every aired episode, can miraculous predict the solution to every called-in car issue due to his wonderful car skills... and memory recall of how the episode went.
Radio shows have been around since the late 1920's. My dad's told me how he and his brothers used to sit around the radio, listening to audio plays. I've found myself many a time looking up old shows my dad listened to as a kid, like Chickenman and The Shadow. And while he may not remember every episode, ha can, and does, sing the theme song from both shows.
Another title I've grown up with would have to be A Prairie Home Companion, found on NPR as well as 700 other public stations. If you've never heard of PHC, it's worth the Google search. You'll be impressed by the variety showed, recorded in front of a live audience, which features comedy skits and monologues, most famously "Guy Noir, Private Eye", "News From Lake Wobegon", and "The Lives of Cowboys." There's also a large array of American folk music played throughout the show by various guest performers. PHC takes advantage of the fact it's a live show by incorporating visual and audio jokes jointly for both their physical and listening audience.
As you can tell, radio shows are still around and even popular today, but they've changed their format significantly from the norm. For about 90 years, the only way to hear your favorite FM show was to tune in on the right day and time. Evolving alongside all the other technology today, these shows have switched from one platform to another: Podcasts. Today you can find a Podcast on just about any subject; be it comedy, cooking, writing, video games, skits, and sketches, or whatever else you enjoy. Able to b downloaded to just about any device, these episodes can be listened to just about anywhere.
This still doesn't explain why radio programs have lasted for so long with so much popularity. What's the appeal? Can't TV provide the same plot of a show, perhaps even better? Why didn't these picture less-plays die out with the invention and mass production of the television? Why would someone want to have to think up images in their own head when they could see those images on TV?
I think when the radio play officially dies out, so will a large chunk of human imagination. The inability to see characters and settings gives the listener a chance to view those people and places however they want. This opportunity strengthens human inventiveness, people can listen for a few minutes and create an entire world in their mind. That's something you don't get a lot in television shows. Great movies will purposefully leave viewers in the dark, allowing them to come up with explanations and a vision of what could happen. Radio uses that same tactic without ever letting down the audience.
To elaborate, have you ever read a great book full of interesting characters and intriguing places? Now, have you ever heard that book was going to be turned into a movie? There's a sense of excitement as well as dread that comes with that announcement. Yes, you'll finally get to see your printed heroes completing daunting tasks with wide angle shots and an alluring score in the background...but what about the actors? Most movies don't care as much about the source material, rather about the famous name they can put on the movie poster. While a dark brunette Jennifer Lawrence may have done great in her role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies, she's not exactly the olive-skinned, straight black hair, extremely skinny girl from the books. Other noticeably different book-to-movie characters include Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter ("eyes as green as pickled toad"? Yeah, not really) and Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson series (The book: deep tan, curly blonde hair. The movie? straight brunette hair and a fair skin. At least they tried to fix it in the sequel...)
My point is that a visual media interpenetration will not always live up to expectations. That's where the glory of radio shows come in. There are no visuals. Aside from the Podcast cover art or the occasional drawing a creator may post on social media, you have the freedom to imagine the characters of a radio play however you want. There are no restrictions to your imagination!
Some podcasts take advantage of this lack of visibility. A current popular Podcast named Welcome to Night Vale is a series of vignettes about a radio host, Cecil, describing the daily occurrences of the town of Night Vale, a truly mystifying area where a Faceless Old Woman lives in the home of every resident, deer have two heads and three eyes, and eating toast is illegal. Cecil is in every episode and does an astounding job of describing things in an almost poetic way... except his own appearance. Fans are left up to their own devices in picturing this narrator-protagonist. Some see him as a slender, white man like the actor Cecil Baldwin. Others view him as a Native American man covered in eye tattoos that actually blink and look around. Some imagine a body-less glowing gas cloud with a surprisingly soothing voice. The point is that it doesn't matter. Every single person that imagines him is correct because there's no true description or image of the character. The mystery that wraps around the radio host is the same that engulfs the entire town.
All in all, I think that if creators continue to evolve with technology the way they have, radio shows will never go out of style. Podcasts revolutionize digital media, allowing people to drive to work or school and listen to a story that is more than just an audio-book. Boundaries and limits can be pushed with the advances of today's audience and adaptability of producers.
Oh, and yes, there is a Car Talk Podcast.