Libertarian Radio Theater
A Proposal
Nathan Barton

Louis James' recent idea for selling liberty on its benefits has been in my thoughts a lot recently, and combined with another interest, caused an idea to suddenly gel. I'm runnin this up the flagpole to see who salutes!

The golden age of radio drama is long, long past; the days of The Lone Ranger, The Phantom, and Dragnet are long gone, but not forgotten. Not just those who lived through that wonderful era when the world came into the home through a tinny speaker, but many younger people, even children, find those old radio programmes (to use the traditional British spelling) to be fascinating and fun.

Radio drama is all but dead in the United States, which is not the case in other parts of the world. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has an entire radio channel devoted to radio drama and comedy, featuring regular adaptations of popular books as well as long-running soap operas and other programs. In May 2003, one may listen to episodes of "Virgin in the Ice" (a Cadfael mystery), "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", and an adaption of the novel "Fatherland" about a 1964 Nazi Germany; and of course, "The Archers", a "temporary" soap opera started to encourage the home front in World War 2, and which continues strong today more than 50 years later. Radio drama has been used to encourage freedom in Afghanistan and public health improvements in Rwanda, and is obviously still a popular medium.

Even in the USA. It still exists here. In addition to the "oldies" stations that often broadcast old Superman and Fibber McGee and Molly, there are other offerings. While various Public Radio stations offer some drama (usually BBC exports), perhaps the most popular remaining nationally broadcast program is "Adventures in Odyssey", a half-hour "children's" program by the religious broadcaster Focus on the Family, broadcast by several hundred, mostly religious, radio stations: South Dakota alone has 21 stations broadcasting the weekly episode of "Adventures in Odyssey" featuring John Avery Whittaker, owner of the children's hangout "Whit's End," and his friends, including Connie Kendall, Eugene Milsner, and other favorite friends. Focus On The Family Radio Theatre also produces a variety of programs using some of Britain's finest actors (Paul Scofield, David Suchet, Dame Joan Plowright, to name a few) and state-of-the-art sound design. Productions include the complete "Chronicles of Narnia," "The Secret Garden," "A Christmas Carol," "Ben Hur," "Silas Marner," and the Peabody Award-winning "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom." They also produce original programs, including Father Gilbert Mysteries and "The Luke Reports."

Christian broadcasters and BBC mavens have obviously found radio drama and comedy (the line sometimes blurs) an excellent way of teaching and propagandizing. Advocates of liberty can take a page from their book. More effective than straight radio-talk shows, drama and comedy entertain and teach in a non-threatening way at the same time. They can also be put together (as one organization commemorates in their name) on a "shoestring." Even though the lessons have to be in small bites, and need to be presented in an entertaining way, the impact of even an amateur production can be tremendous: many kinds of local radio advertising (and often the ones that stick most in our minds) are little "drama-ettes" with one or two main characters.

We actually have a pretty good literature to start with; we don't need to try and dramatize Tom Paine's Common Sense to promote ideas of liberty. We could, for instance, start with some of Clair Wolfe's Hardyville series of articles, or even some of Dave Berry's columns, assuming these folks would be willing to lend their talents to the effort. And while it would be harder to write a script, JFPO's Grandpa Jack tracts offer some really great ideas for liberty-minded drama. Finding the right voices would surely not be a difficulty among the myriad friends of liberty that inhabit such spaces as LRT, Liberty Activists, FSP, and others.

Technical expertise might not be that hard to come by, either. We have two models to follow: the five-minute daily "Archers" slice-of-life style, or the half-hour "Odyssey" model are the extremes: many old and modern dramas are only 10, 15, or 20 minutes long. Much depends on the willingness of radio stations to air the programs, although distribution by the Web and by cassette and CD are also possible and useful.

Of course, the charm and utility of such programs as The Archers and Adventures in Odyssey are NOT that they are hard-core presenters of the values that they expound. Instead, the basic principles are embedded into the tales in a way that sticks in the mind despite yourself. The "NovaCom" series of stories in Adventures in Odyssey are good, dramatic mystery-adventures, with lots of cliff-hangers and yet, teach basic Christian principles almost subconsciously. So perhaps NOT exactly replicating Hartyville OR Grandpa Jack, but using their ideas and situations to present plots set in a new fictional American (or not) community would be the best way to approach it. Depending on the format(s) selected, much could be done.

I'll leave this article here, and ask for readers' thoughts and ideas on my brainstorm. Would a series of liberty-minded radio dramas help spread libertarian memes?

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