As a professional writer who lives in a world of nonprofit foundations and arts organizations (I work for the largest arts organization in non-metropolitan New York), I've had the chance to observe them in action.
They raise money. They work to boost, enrich and preserve whatever their speciality is. They spread the message. They champion. They protect.
Radio drama has no such institution. It may be the only major artistic medium that doesn't have an incorporated cheerleader. And think of the medium's latent power – a current reach of millions, a potential for much more, with a low cost of production and low technological barrier to entry.
I've written before about all the other institutions that radio drama does not have. The medium lacks an accessible body of work, a core mass of critical theory, organized content curators, as well as social functions that support and promote it. The Audio Drama Wiki and this blog are my attempt to provide knowledge and reflection into the mix, with the wiki being the ultimate, inevitable way to share and collate information and make the body of work “seen” and present in cyberspace. But my reach is very small.
A person has limitations that do not hinder an organized group.
So what would an Audio Drama Foundation do?
- Raise money. Private foundations and government arts grants are out there seeking projects to give money to. Audio drama has great potential to empower artists, engage communities that do not currently have a voice (or budget to express that voice) in a large context. Audio drama also has an untapped potential for use in education. Kids exploring the craft of writing drama can actually end up with a final product without spending lots of money. A young playwright could never get their project staged in such a professional way.
Grantmakers do not give money to individuals. They give to organizations with track records, who then often sponsor individual artists. Only a foundation could capture some of this capital.
- Enact education programs to build youth audiences. Most of the people in the US are not interested in radio drama. The people who are tend to be old and nostalgia-hungry. Working in politics has taught me two important lessons – that you can't change peoples minds, and that you don't need to. All you have to do is find the people who share your passion and empower them.
To that end, education programs for children are the best way to alert new audiences to the potential of the medium. There is an inherent affinity for it that is built into humans; the act of listening to human voices is fundamental to us, and therefore always relevant to new generations. Education programs incorporating radio drama expand our audience and teach and empower children simultaneously. That's a damn good bargain.
- Fund the Wiki. Ultimately, the Audio Drama Wiki needs custom space. And it needs security and depth that a team of volunteers may not be able to achieve alone. I've toyed with the idea already of paying someone to write entries, since the amount of material is so vast and the wiki-enabled within the radio community is so small. The wiki needs to grow and absorb all the information from the BBC and Diversity, and stay current, in order to be the topographical map of the medium.
- PR. Radio drama needs a serious public relations campaign. It needs stunts like competitions and sponsorships, it needs small press runs that publish old scripts. It needs academic symposiums.
A coherent media message enacting strategies for making the medium feel present in the world is vital, given how fragile and ephemeral its footprint is alone.
It needs a cheerleader with a budget.
- Advocate. No organization currently represents the specific concerns of radio drama listeners and practitioners. The Writers Guild in America can barely advocate for the screenwriters; it doesn't even know what radio drama is. Likewise, other guilds seek to protect small constituencies, not the medium as a whole.
- Preservation. The physical history of the medium resides in many different places. In diffuse collections of the VRPCC, in the black holes of the BBC archives, and in attics of private hobbyists. A foundation could help put these strands together, or at least help to preserve them in their separate places.
- Build Bridges. There are only two types of radio drama entities that currently exist. Professional producers such as the BBC, and amateur hobbyists. An open gulf lies between them, a disconnect in terms of communication, culture, and priority.
A foundation can bridge these types of gaps, and can form partnerships with groups, with the award ceremonies that currently exist, with other countries around the world, and bring these different strands together at a common table. A single person can't do that. The job is just too big. But there are many potential partnerships and areas of mutual interest to explore.
If I cold call someone and say “hi, my name is Bob,” they will likely brush me off. But if I call that same person or organization and say “hi, I'm Bob from the Audio Drama Foundation,” the reaction is suddenly different. The tiny social shift changes the game.
An Audio Drama Foundation is the missing link between all the elements that currently exist.