Cam FM has been around since 1979Will J-Wood

Pause that song a second and read this.

The golden age of radio is long gone, but the golden age of podcasting and audio streaming is coming loud and clear. We don’t sit and watch entertainment anymore: we react, interact and multitask through everything we see, hear and do.

Looking out of the Cambridge bubble (where theatre gloriously rules supreme) we might suppose that learning how to write and perform live material – dramas, sketches, the rare piece of stand-up – might not teach us all we need to learn about the media world us millennials will one day upload ourselves into.

"If last term we pioneered student radio comedy, this term endeavour to pioneer radio drama."

Putting the world to rights one day in a pub (where else?) some friends and I created the plan for a weekly comedy show (unlike the one-night or week-runs most shows offer in Cambridge). We took the plan to Cam FM, Cambridge’s student-radio and, after backing from Judith E Wilson studio in the English Faculty, broadcast eight weekly 30 minutes shows of original live comedy to the world. The world did not tune in. Our listeners did not exclude seven billion, but undoubtedly exceeded seven. By the end of the term we had amused people, but I wanted to push the team harder; to create higher quality content in the same medium. Our editing was a simple audio compression, improv was always playful, and at moments hilarious, but very rarely poignant. If last term we pioneered student radio comedy, this term endeavour to pioneer radio drama.

As of quite recently, I am head of radio comedy and drama in Cambridge, having produced eight weeks of comedy last term, and hoping to match it with eight weeks of drama this term. From December until the new committee is formed in February, I will be developing a drama unit at Cam FM; training editors, assisting producers and directors to build casts and create radio-plays.

Nationally speaking, broadcasters, artists and producers (of music and of podcasts) want their noise to go into your headphoned ears. That is, along with Spotify, ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ and Krishnan Guru-Murphy’s Twitter-conquering interview podcast. Today is the age of streaming and of podcasting. Crucially, none of these shows demand much of your time, or all of concentration like the traditional media of theatre or scheduled television. You may listen on a run, in a library session, or walking to lectures. The reason that radio survived extinction through TV’s heyday is that you cannot drive while watching Grimmy or Ken Bruce, but you can listen.  That unique offering, radio’s resistant strand was convenience; and it means that video never truly killed the radio star.

Cam FM is kept alive by student from University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University Lauren Johnston-Wood

Today in Cambridge, audio entertainment has one final USP in Cambridge: while it gives its audience convenience, it gives its creators ease. This ease enables dramas to cross the universe, without the necessary CGI of video entertainment: ‘two chords, a narrator says: “China”, and there you are’ as John Lloyd summarised in a recent radio comedy discussion show (‘The Frequency of Laughter, ep. 1). Cast-aside blocking, costumes, learning lines, the dress/tech run, ticket selling, a set audience limit, voice projection, and it seems like a fair bonus to make up for the visual possibilities that admittedly fall outside radio’s remit.

"To look to the future, this community will have to re-examine the reasons why radio was so fertile and successful in the first place."

In the next few weeks we are going to discover if it is possible to create a rolling programme of radio plays alongside all the great content in Cambridge’s theatres. I hope that by the time our team finishes, radio will be seen as a innovative and legitimate place for student dramatists to exhibit their work. This term’s project has the hallmarks of an open-for-business, collaborative project: we share out all the roles we need and deal with problems as they arise. There’s space for anyone with an interest in drama, broadcasting, editing, publicity, tech, logistics to lend a hand and be a part of this.

When we have produced our series, when four hours of new drama has been broadcast, starring new actors, written and directed by Cambridge students; we will have cultured a body of experienced radio directors, writers, actors, editors, studio ops and publicists. To look to the future, this community will have to re-examine the reasons why radio was so fertile and successful in the first place. New scripts have been written that truly blend the sightlessness and musicality of spoken word and sound effect.

In this way radio is open to new possibilities of subjectivity and sympathy. When you darken your screen and listen to a ‘sightless’ radio-play, you might be in fact gaining a sensual proximity to and a new-found sympathy with somebody with visual impairment, as explored in Iris Pearson’s play Through Dark Eyes, produced and broadcast in October.

In a different way, through its aural intensity and particularity, Helen Dallas’s radio-play The Willow House Recordings reaches its dramatic conclusion in the replay of a tape recording. On screen this conclusion might seem visually mundane: an extreme close up of a tape-player on a table. Yet on radio, in the listener’s ears and mind, this climax is heard with all the force and dramatic efficacy of the previous scenes.


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The whole artefact remains when you create art in the audio or video medium. We might not learn our lines, or even have an audience in the stalls, but our art can be heard forever in the same form as we first created it. For this reason, we are hoping to also record, adapt and preserve Cambridge theatrical shows with our audio-capture kits; starting this term with two scenes from the ADC main-show, The Glass Menagerie, and an audio sample of the Corpus Playroom’s The House They Grew Up In. As of yet the dynamic between Cambridge Theatre and Cambridge Radio is nascent and undeveloped, waiting for dedicated students to blend the two creative spheres in their own way.

Feel free to listen your music again (if you humoured me in pausing it). Listen out too for the sounds designed to entertain you that are heard in every environment; and if you’d be so kind, to our New Drama show on Cam FM.

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