Today we take a short respite from looking at technological advances and industry innovations to look at one of the more interesting social applications of radio: storytelling. Here in the USA, we get exposed to a good bit of storytelling over the airwaves. NPR is especially good at that with slice of life programs like This American Life. What I would like to examine is the tradition of reading books over the air.
The BBC has been doing this for years, as have radio stations for the blind located across the world. Before the boom in audio books on tape and CD, there was storytelling over the air, and if you are lucky you can still catch some if you tune in at the right time and place.
Gillian Reynolds of the UK Telegraph shares her ruminations on this aspect of the medium:
Books and radio go together. Reading and listening both require concentration. Each has the potential to absorb or infuriate. They may stimulate deep personal response. Radio 4’s Feedback was recently inundated with furious letters about Book at Bedtime featuring two gruesome contemporary novels in a row, […]
Psychologists say there’s a physical link between listening and reading, that children brought up having stories read to them will learn to read faster on their own and, all round, will develop better powers of focus.
The intimate experience of listening to a story on the radio may well pull emotional strings tied to childhood bedtime stories or it may not. Reynolds does not address this aspect. Whether it is or not, those who listen to their books on the air tend to jealously guard their “book time” from interruption. Ms. Reynolds is a great example of this as she makes comments throughout her piece such as, “Suddenly, being alone in the kitchen (or bathroom, or bedroom) with the radio is imperative. Intruders won’t be welcome. Friends who telephone will find the phone off the hook.”
Isn’t this one of the things that radio strives for on the industry side? An audience that is not going to just flip the dial at the next commercial break? I know that the demographic which this appeals to is merely a fragment of the listening populace, but many fragments comprise a whole…