Radio Inquiry Unit
(Featured Sources, Supporting Question 3)
All of the information below is also available in the pdf linked below.
ORIGINAL RADIO PLAY:
Create an original radio program using the same techniques utilized in early radio studio productions. You will need to write and perform a scripted dialogue that includes at least 5 sounds that must be created artificially in your “studio.” Practice recording each of the sound effects until you achieve the effect you want.
Radio plays, also called radio drama or audio plays, are a form of entertainment that rose to prominence in the 1930s and ‘40s. They were a major revolution in pre-television entertainment and allowed people to experience live theatrical performances starring popular actors in their own homes for the first time. The setup of the traditional radio play broadcast involved several actors statically positioned around either one or two microphones who performed the script, often playing multiple characters. In addition to the cast, sound effects or “foley” artists would be stationed around the studio using various props to add sound effects and ambient noise to the production in order to increase the realism of the scene.
Create an engaging experience in which students will learn about early radio production and gain an understanding of how much the advancement of radio technology changed entertainment and how people consumed it.
Depending on how you wish to complete this activity, you can either have the students attempt to create their sound effects on their own, using materials they can find, or provide them with materials commonly used to create sound effects. If you choose the latter, the list below provides some examples of materials as well as the sound they can be used to create.
- 1 pair of dress shoes
- Simulate footsteps using your hands to “walk” on a desk or floor
- A roll of cellophane
- Crinkle to simulate the sound of a fire
- A metal pan and a bag of rice
- Slowly drop the rice onto the metal pan to simulate the rainfall on a roof
- A piece of aluminum sheet metal or a thin metal baking sheet
- Shake quickly back and forth to simulate the sound of thunder
- 2 hollowed-out coconut shells
- Clap together to create the horse hooves on a road
- A textbook or similar hardcover book
- Tap softly on the cover to simulate the sound of a heartbeat
You will also need:
- A recording device. (Both Apple and Android phones should have a built-‐in voice-‐recording app or voice memo app. Or, you could us an old tape recorder, which would also show students another type of recording device.)
You can use many other materials to create sounds, but this should give you and your students a good starting point. If you would like to explore the subject further, more information can be found here and here. If your school has a music or AV department, consult with their staff for further information.
- After watching and listening to the radio play and video provided below, split the students into groups of 4 or 5.
(The above may also be found on archive.org)
Guy Noir (note the sound effects being executed at 4:55):
- If you chose to use the provided materials, present those to the class and show them what sounds they can make with them. If not, tell the students ahead of time about the assignment to give them time to think about what sounds effects they like and collect the materials necessary to make them.
- Once that is complete, have them begin writing the script for their radio play within their groups using the handouts. For an example of a radio play script click the following link for a Sherlock Holmes radio play from 1939.
- Once they’ve finished writing, have them create the 5 sound effects they need for their play.
- Once they’ve achieved the effects, have them record the sounds on a phone or other recording device so they can be played back during their performance.
- Have the students present their plays in the traditional radio play style (similar to Guy Noir) with one student in each group assigned to play the sound effects.
Once you are finished with the presentations, answer the following questions about early radio and its influence:
- Has this exercise changed the way you think about television, radio, and movies?
- Do you think that today’s TV and movies are influenced by these radio plays? If so, how?
- Do you think the providing sound effects along with the dialogue helped make the radio plays more engaging than if they had just been dialogue?
- What developments in the field of radio and broadcasting do you think helped lead to the success of radio plays during the 1930s and ‘40s?