COLUMN: Audio dramas are underrated

With the Emmys having aired Monday, Sept. 18, many people have their attention turned toward TV shows. With 57 percent of Americans signed up for a streaming service, it has become easier than ever to binge-watch an entire season of a show in one sitting. 

TV shows have a reputation for being the only binge-able form of storytelling — with the average length of a movie being about an hour and a half and books taking hours. However, there is another media platform that is somteimes overlooked — podcasts. 

When most people think of podcasts, they usually think of newscasts or true crime podcasts. While these are legitimately good, the type of podcast more people should be listening to is audio dramas. The modern audio drama is a far cry from the radio shows of the 1930s and 1940s. They have rich soundscapes, inventive plots and fantastic voice actors.

Many people are skeptical of audio dramas. It’s daunting to switch from visual storytelling to one that is entirely audio. But the thing is, a good story is a good story, no matter the medium. Fiction podcasts are not lacking because they don’t have visuals; in fact, this often works in their favor. It allows creators to have more freedom when imagining settings because they do not have to find a way to physically create the landscape. 

For example, one of my favorite podcasts, The Penumbra Podcast, has a plot following a private investigator who lives on a long-colonized Mars. As he uncovers the corruption of the Martian city, the fantastic landscape of Mars is described with amazing detail. These sorts of details would be almost impossible to create on the small screen with a limited budget, and this is why the concept works perfectly as an audio drama.

Another strength of the audio drama medium is its diversity. Many people can see themselves properly represented in audio dramas where TV shows might fail them.

While TV shows are getting better with queer representation, many still resort to the trope of the token gay character, and that gay character often dies. In contrast, many popular audio dramas, such as Welcome to Night Vale, The Bright Sessions, The Strange Case of Starship Iris and The Penumbra Podcast, don’t just have one queer character; they have many. 

These characters are not just background characters thrown in to make the shows seem progressive. They are given believable personalities and full character arcs separate from their sexualities.

Audio dramas also do an excellent job with highlighting women. Alice Isn’t Dead, Girl in Space and Ars Paradoxica, just to name a few, all have strong female leads. “Strong” in this case doesn’t mean physically strong. Strong means well-written and realistic. The women in these shows are women with flaws; however, they learn and grow from the situations in which they are placed. They are allowed to be uniquely themselves. 

Of course, many other forms of media have inclusive storytelling as well, but in podcasts it is flourishing.

The audio drama medium is full of independent artists. It is a field where all kinds of people can tell their story without having to get any permission from a production company, as long as they have the skill. Listening to audio dramas supports independent artists who otherwise would not have been able to share their storytelling with the world.

Because the world of audio drama is comparatively small and independent, it is fun to participate in the fanbase. The creators of podcasts are very responsive on social media, interacting with fans and reacting to theories. 

Finally, audio dramas are just plain convenient. They are free, and all they require is a set of headphones and a smartphone or computer. Most people who listen to audio dramas prefer listening to them while they are doing a mindless task, which is why they are perfect for college students. They are perfect for folding laundry, cleaning your room, making dinner, walking to class or going for a jog. Essentially, any time you want something to concentrate on more than music but less than a TV show, audio dramas are perfect. 

So, the next time you can’t decide what show you want to watch, consider starting to listen to an audio drama. You might find what you didn’t even realize you were missing. 

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