The end of October kicked off a yearlong, centennial celebration of an innovative group of artists, whose 1922 production led to the first series and broadcast network.
The end of October marked the 9th commemoration of World Audio Drama Day, held every year on the eve of Halloween, October 30th — and also the start of a centennial celebration, which honors a much longer milestone in entertainment.
“The autumn of 2022 represents a century of series storytelling!” explains Sibby Wieland, who created the Audio Drama Day holiday to celebrate both historic radio drama and modern podcasts during the Halloween season. “This year’s World Audio Drama Day kicks off a century celebration of the WGY Players, whose pioneering 1922 drama series led to thousands of radio, television, podcast, and streaming series.”
Although other dramas may have aired on early radio, historian Elizabeth McLeod pinpointed the summer 1922 radio premiere of “The Wolf” as the primary spark that led to broadcast drama series.
“The Wolf,” a play produced by theater director Edward H. Smith over WGY Radio (Schenectady, NY) received thousands of letters and cards from listeners. In response, that fall Smith and WGY founded a new troupe of actors, producing the first series of dramas in a regular time slot. (WGY Players included in the attached 1922 photo, from left to right, include Rose Cohn, Lola Sommers, Frank Oliver, Edward E. St. Louis, Edward H. Smith).
The popularity of this new series led in December to the first network radio setup, as linked stations in New York City and Washington D.C. simulcast the WGY series – making WGY Players the forefather of not only the golden age of radio drama, but also network television. The WGY Players also featured in the pioneering 1928 television broadcast “The Queen’s Messenger”.
“The innovations of the WGY Players a hundred years ago are a tangible link to serial content made by early podcasters, producers, and streamers today,” explains Wieland, who wrote an online history of audio drama for Acast’s Audio Fiction Week in 2021.
She notes the 11th Hour Audio, a collaborative experiment for making new horror audio each autumn, embodies the initiative and creativity of WGY Players – along with emerging audio work made by students and educators, like Re-Imagined Radio (Washington State University in Vancouver) and Radio Humber (Humber College in Toronto, Canada).
“Meanwhile, sites like the Audio Drama Directory, and organizations like SPERDVAC and National Audio Theater Festivals (each founded in the 1970s), have helped keep the flame alive.”
The first Audio Drama Day was announced at the Parsec Awards in September 2013, in anticipation of the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast in October 1938. World Audio Drama Day will be celebrated for the 10th time in 2023.