Codes, Conventions and Structure of Radio Drama

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Words and Voices

Words and Voices are key to a successful Radio Drama; there is no other way to capture the attention of the audience and so the drama must use the words and voices in the drama. As there is no visual for the audience to follow, they have to use the audio to guide them and give them structure in order for them to be able to follow the story, when producing a radio drama ensuring that the voice fits the character and that the words they speak suit the accent. For example, in the Radio Drama “An Everyday Story of Afghan Folk” actors from middle-eastern backgrounds have been chosen to provide the voices for the characters. This works because their accents will really help the audience picture the location of the drama.

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Sounds and Silence

Sound and Silence are useful tools when used correctly but it can possibly be dangerous if used incorrectly. What I mean by this is that if your silence drags on for too long, the listener might be tempted to change channel or might think that the drama is over. However, silence can be used as a way to mark the end of a scene and/or to make clear of a break in the dialogue.

Music and Ambience

Music and Ambience falls into similar usage when compared with TV drama; music is used for setting the tone and feel of a scene. If the scene is romantic, then the music could be warm and/or sensual. If the scene is action-packed, then the music might be dramatic. A good example of music used dramatically might be Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, based on the novel by HG Wells. The music is mostly orchestral, giving the drama a decent range of sounds and a very diverse soundtrack.


Speech is the final Code of Radio Drama I looked at, and this is simply how the words are spoken. Changes in pitch, in tone and in volume of voice can have great effects on the quality of the drama. Obviously, you don’t want your speech to be too loud or for it to be too quiet, or else the listener either wouldn’t be able to hear the ambience or won’t be able to hear the dialogue. Either way, you should look to make sure that your audio is balanced correctly.


Aural Signposting

Aural signposting is a popular convention of radio drama; it is the use of ambient sound to tell the audience where they are. This is the equivalent of (in TV and Film) actually using a signpost, this is used because the audience feels like they are actually transported to the desired location. If you were to shut your eyes while listening to a radio drama with good aural signposting, you should be able to easily see yourself at the location.


A lot of the time in radio dramas, they will end on a cliffhanger in order to persuade the listener to tune in to the next episode. If the drama is successful at making the listener relate to the characters, a cliffhanger becomes a useful tool as the listener is desperate to know what happens next. However, if cliffhangers are used way too often, then they could lose their impact. Cliffhangers have been used for many years ; one of the earliest known cliffhangers was written by Homer in his epic the “Odyssey”. We see the suitors setting a trap for Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, and then the following chapters are about Odysseus and his travels. We do not learn of Telemachus’s fate until further on into the story, despite the tension put in place by the cliffhanger being there.


Flashbacks are another tool used among radio dramas, as they allow for reflective character development and can be used to clarify plot points or give details behind certain events. One thing that flashbacks have in common with cliffhangers is that they shouldn’t be clichéd, or else their impact might be narrowed. In addition, having too many flashbacks could leave the radio listener muddled as to where the story is at and set. As an example, if the main character gets wedged in a trap by the villain at the conclusion of an episode, then it leaves the listeners speculating as to what’s going to happen next. However if this happens every episode then the audience would quickly drop interest and regard the drama as predictable.

Use of fades and silences

When looking to transition between scenes, the drama may apply fades and silences. An example of this could be when nearing the end of a scene with strong emotions or a twist, the director decides to fade out to silence there. However, a lot of dramas use music to transition between scenes, which gives the director more control over the audience and their feelings. An example of this, working back to Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, would be that in between each scene there is typically a song or some kind of musical complement, to demonstrate the passing of time and amuse the audience. This gives the audience time to digest the preceding scene and allows the new scene to be presented through narration or dialogue later.


The style of a successful Radio Drama is to audibly create a dynamic, realistic world that the listener feels a part because of the soundscape around the action. This is important in spoken-word dramas, as the production needs to prompt the listener’s imagination in order to form the desired world and feel required. This may be thought to have limitless potential, due to the absence of visuals, as the audience’s imagination commonly creatively limits the piece. The director tries to create a detailed audible world that will to help immerse the listener. For instance, you might want to have distant gunfire in a warzone or the sound of waves on the shore if the scene near or at the beach.

Most radio dramas will have a narrator who can in theory set the scene and explain the not so obvious areas of the story to the audience in a welcoming, comprehensive manner. The narrator can explain how a character feels and how they really react to the events. Yet, this might allow undesirable side-effects as the audience could possibly lose track on who or what the narrator talking about. If an omnipresent narrator is used, then they need to be clear and concise in what they convey to the audience.

Making a drama suitable to the audience is critical if the piece is to be successful. This mean that if the manner of the dialogue used doesn’t fit with the target audience then the audience will feel withdrawn from the story and look somewhere else for their entertainment. As an example, if the drama is full of slang and a childlike style of speech, but aimed at an older audience, then it would not be considered to be appropriate for that audience and all it would do would be making the audience tune out/off. This works the same way in reverse in that older speech styles would make younger listeners bored and alienate them from the story



Duration is an important factor to remember when producing your radio drama. Depending on the length of your radio drama you have to keep your drama action packed throughout or have a build up to the action. For example in a short radio drama (3-5 minutes) you would want to keep the drama plot small but interesting throughout. If the radio drama was long (25- 30 minutes long) then you would have the plot of the radio drama build up to the action and keep the audience interested throughout.

Narrative structure

Narrative structure is one of the best and easiest ways to explain an action or plot happening in a radio drama. It is also useful to use for setting a scene or mood for a radio drama. Voice of god is also a great similar structure you can use to set the scene.

Development of plot

As mentioned above development of plot is split in to two categories. On being for a short 5 minute radio drama where the drama jumps straight into the plot and is action packed throughout. The other category would be for 30 minute radio drama’s where the plot develops bit by bit and gradually builds up to an action, by using this technique the audience will be captivated.

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