Radio, Art of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Radio, Art of


the various forms of dramatic art that use spoken words and sound, which emerged with the technical development of the radio. The art of radio also includes adaptations of literary, theatrical, and musical stage productions, which acquire new qualities of artistic imagery and new aesthetic effects by using the creative techniques and technical resources of radio broadcasting. The art of radio, together with film-making and the art of television, is among the most important arts directed at a mass audience. It was brought about by the worldwide scientific and technological revolution of the 20th century and by the new demands of mass communication.

The art of radio has its own distinctive means of artistic expression and is created and perceived under its own special conditions. Its means of artistic expression are determined by its chief distinguishing characteristic—the nonvisual nature of the radio play. Thus, the emotionally interpreted words spoken by the actor assume a special quality, as do a variety of acoustical effects, including real sounds, music, pauses, and artificial sounds produced by special devices and electronic apparatus. In any art, the means of expression should correspond to what is being expressed (G. Lessing, Laokoon, Moscow, 1957, p. 187). The art of radio lacks visual images and, as a result, it gravitates less toward the visible world and physical actions and behavior, which are essential in the spectator arts, and more toward the human spirit and conflicts of feelings and ideas, which are expressed primarily in the characters’ speeches, such as soliloquies and dialogues.

The art of radio is related to the epos, lyric poetry, music, and drama, including the creative work of the ancient rhapsodists, the monologues of Shakespearean theater, Goethe’s closet drama, Schiller’s search for an art of theater “that would depict nothing but would only mean something,” and the dominant role of the spoken word in the theater of Ostrovskii. However, before the advent of the art of radio, drama had never been intended for nonvisual acting. The nonvisual aspect creates the unique aesthetic qualities of the art of radio and the special ways in which radio drama is performed and perceived. The listener is in his everyday home environment; the action and characters do not appear in front of him, as in a theatrical performance, but rather they appear in his consciousness. To a great extent, the richness of this artistic world depends upon the listener’s imagination.

The art of radio requires that actors provide a subtle, restrained, true-to-life, psychologically profound and finely nuanced vocal performance. Specific direction techniques are determined by the extraordinarily important role of sound and various acoustical effects. The director must be able to work carefully with the actors on their vocal expressiveness. He must also use tape recordings and electronic technology and be able to combine numerous sound components into a harmonious artistic image. The sound producer is also very important.

The art of radio developed in the early 1920’s. On Jan. 15, 1924, a London radio station broadcast the world’s first radio drama, Danger, by R. Hughes. In the USSR, the premiere of the radio play An Evening With Mariia Volkonskaia took place on Dec. 25, 1925, the 100th anniversary of the Decembrist uprising; the text and direction were by N. O. Volkonskii. Radio “films” later appeared; those from Leningrad included Stepan Khalturin (1928), Petr Moiseenko (1928), October (1929), and Perekep (1930), and those from Moscow included Kamo (1929), Ten Days That Shook the World (1929), and The White Sea Canal (1932).

In 1932 the actor and director E. P. Garin wrote, directed, and performed the Soviet radio monodrama Fifteen Rounds, based on the novel by A. Decoin.

In the late 1920’s the theoretical bases of the art of radio were established. In Theses on the Art of Radio, A. V. Lunacharskii wrote that “in order for this form of art to be effective… it must create its own techniques and methods, based both on the special conditions of nonvisual perception and the artistic emotions transformed by mechanical broadcasting” (see M. Mik-riukov, “Radioteatr—iskusstvo,” Teatr, 1964, no. 12, p. 44).

In 1929 the Radio Theater Workshop was organized at the Moscow Radio Center. Radio dramatists included A. N. Afino-genov (Dniprel’stan, 1930), I. Il’f and E. Petrov (The Disaster of Voron’ia Slobodka, 1931), A. T. Tvardovskii (the epic Road to Socialism, 1931), V. M. Inber (White Sea Canal, 1932), Iu. K. Olesha (The Youth of the Age, 1932), K. Ia. Finn (The Whole World, 1932), and A. S. Serafimovich (the epopee The Iron Flood, 1932). The radio plays of German Communist writers also joined the repertoire of Soviet radio drama, including F. Wolf’s Save Our Souls (The S.S. Krasin Saves the S.S. Italia, 1931) and E. Toller’s The Latest News From Berlin (1931). Works based on classical literature also provided material for the art of radio; for example, Ranks and People (1932) was based on short stories by A. P. Chekhov.

Gradually, radio engaged prominent directors, actors, and composers. In 1932, V. E. Meyerhold utilized the specific sound features of the art of radio and presented a radio production of A. S. Pushkin’s The Stone Guest. D. B. Kabalevskii wrote the music for the radio epic Galician Jacquerie (with lines by B. Iasenskii) and the radio composition Don Quixote, adapted from Cervantes’ novel.

In the mid-1930’s dramatic broadcasting turned toward popularizing leading literary, stage, and musical works. Special literary divisions and an editorial office called The Theater at the Microphone (1935) were organized. The golden treasury of Soviet radio grew with recordings of literary readings and adaptations of the best theatrical works, including M. Gorky’s Egor Bulychev and the Others, as presented by the Vakhtangov Theater, and Resurrection, adapted from L. N. Tolstoy’s novel and presented by the Moscow Art Theater.

Broadcasts for children and young people became very popular; directors included R. M. Ioffe, N. V. Litvinov, and N. A. German. The best adaptations of literary prose include A. P. Gaidar’s A Blue Cup and Chuk and Gek, V. P. Kataev’s A Lone White Sail, G. Rodari’s The Adventures of Cipollino, K. G. Paus-tovskii’s Steel Ring and Warm Bread, A. Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventure of the Dancing Men, I. S. Turgenev’s Singers, A. N. Tolstoy’s The Golden Key, A. Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.

Since the 1960’s, interest has grown in radio drama as an independent literary form created for the microphone. The radio plays presented by various studios include A. N. Misharin’s Happy, Peaceful Day (1967), Edge of the Sea (1969), and Five Conversations With My Son (1971), A. L. Veitsler’s February Wind (1966), Journey Along the River (1972), and Ambush (1973), and V. A. Sergeev’s Expect Us in the Morning (1973) and Today and Always (1974).

The art of radio is developing in the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, and other republics. There have been considerable successes in Estonia, including such radio plays as J. Liiv’s Steps (1960), Fifth Compartment (1961), Knock on the Door (1964), and Unfinished Portrait (1971) and R. Kaugver’s Victory (1958), Ninth Circle (1961), and Sixty Minutes (1967).

Actors and directors who have greatly contributed to the development of the art of radio include Volkonskii, Garin, O. N. Abdulov, V. S. Kantsel’, V. I. Kachalov, M. I. Babanova, R. Ia. Pliatt, A. A. Konsovsky, V. A. Sperantova, I. V. Il’inskii, V. N. Pashennaia, D. N. Zhuravlev, D. N. Orlov, M. M. Nazvanov, and Z. A. Bokareva. Those who work in radio include A. V. Ba-talov, M. A. Ul’ianov, Iu. V. Iakovlev, and M. I. Kazakov.

Authors and directors of radio plays outside the USSR have included A. Seghers and B. Brecht (German Democratic Republic), H. Boll, W. Borchert, G. Eich, and S. Lenz (Federal Republic of Germany), J. Iwaszkiewicz, E. Szaniawski, Z. Posmysz, J. Krzysztón, D. Mularczyk, and I. Iredyski (Poland), D. Soós (Hungary), F. Dürrenmatt and M. Frisch (Switzerland), E. Ionesco (France), L. MacNiece, H. Pinter, D. Cooper, and S. Beckett (Great Britain), A. MacLeish, O. Welles, and N. Corwin (USA), and I. Bergman (Sweden).

Throughout the existence of the art of radio, there has not been any universally accepted definition of the genre of the works produced for radio. Both in the USSR and abroad, works that use both sound and a script are created for broadcasting. These works vary in their content and characteristics and include radio dramas, comedies, short stories, monodramas, ballads, monologues, and plays (dialogues); there are also family series (the radio novel), novels in a radio-broadcast version, and radio compositions.

In the USSR and other socialist countries, the art of radio is an active force in the creation of a new reality and in the upbringing of the new man. In Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, the art of radio is realistic and permeated with life-affirming ideas.

In capitalist countries, there is an ongoing struggle in radio drama between progressive and socially active art and reactionary tendencies; for example, the neues Hörspiel and the total sound play (Federal Republic of Germany), the new radio drama (Great Britain), and the audiodramas and sound plays of certain French, Australian, and Scandinavian writers develop in the context of such antiliterary trends as the nouveau novel, the theater of the absurd, and the style of a happening.

There are also many low-quality and “popular” radio productions, including those in the style of American soap operas (sponsored by detergent manufacturers), horror plays, and police stories. These distract working people from current social and political problems and propagate bourgeois ideology.


Boll, H. Sem’ korolkikh islorii. Moscow, 1968. [Radio plays translated from German.]
Kanat al’pinistov: Radiop’esy. Moscow, 1971.
Kontsert dlia chetyrekh golosov: Radiop’esy. Moscow, 1972. (Translations.)
Padenie goroda: Sb. amerikanskikh radiop’es. Moscow, 1974. (Translated from English.)
V storone: Sb. skandinavskikh radiop’es. Moscow, 1974. (Translations.)
Zaitsev, la. “Na putiakh rekonstruktsii radioveshchaniia.” Radio-slushatel’, 1930, no. 27.
Milovidov, I. “Radiop’esa v Amerike.” Radioslushatel’, 1930, no. 22.
Smirnov, N. “Radioiskusstvo.” Radioslushatel’, 1930, no. 14.
Kantsel’, V. “Zvukovoi iazyk—vedushchii radioiskusstva.” Miting millionov, 1931, nos. 4–5.
Voprosy radiodramaturgii. [Collection of articles.] Moscow, 1969.
Rezhissura radiopostanovok. [Collection of articles.] Moscow, 1970.
Mikriukov, M. “V poiskakh estetiki radiodramy.” In the collection Problemy televideniia i radio [issue 2]. Moscow, 1971.
Televidenie i radioveshchanie za rubezhom. [Collection of articles.] Moscow, 1973.
Gielgud, V. H. British Radio Drama, 1922–56. London, 1957.
Barnow, E. A History of Broadcasting in the United States, vols. 1–2. New York, 1966–68.
Neues Hörspiel: Essays, Analysen, Gespräche. Frankfurt am Main, 1970.
Kaziów, M. O dziele radiowym: Z zagadnień estetyki oryginalnego shichowiska. Wroclaw-Warsaw-Kraków-Gdańsk, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.