Radio-Free America

Somewhere around 2001, I gave up listening to the radio; pretty much I gave up on music at the same time.  Prior to that, I had been a regular listener to the radio.  In my youth, I was a real heavy metal/glam rock snob (only the best or most obscure bands for me, thank you very much).  As I got older, I dabbled in album rock, rave/dance music, classical, soundtracks, and even some pop music towards the end (forgive me, Britney was hot back then).  I also had several friends that were DJs at local rock stations.  However, with a 30 minute commute to work, hearing the same songs in heavy rotation finally pushed me over the edge.  At that point, I made a clean break from the radio and walked away.  I’m proud to say that I haven’t missed it since.

Audio Dramas

Big Finish Doctor WhoMy gateway drug into a radio-less world was full-cast audio dramas (also known as radio plays).   Audio dramas typically feature several actors, original musical scores, sound effects, etc.  There is usually no narrator in audio dramas; the actors describe the scene with their dialogue. Two years prior to my radio abandonment, a small company named Big Finish had started to produce monthly Doctor Who audio dramas.  These stories featured the original actors from the show in new exciting adventures.  They weren’t cheap but had very high-end production values and quality stories.  This was during the dark ages of Doctor Who; after the series was canceled, but before the new series started.  The only ones really carrying the Doctor Who torch back then was Big Finish and the BBC original novels.  So these audio dramas would provide me with two hours of listening enjoyment.  Admittedly, I had to listen to several of them multiple times because I didn’t have many other non-radio options, but I didn’t mind.

Another fantastic audio drama series is the “Star Wars” radio plays done by NPR.  Both “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back” were fantastic!  Really high quality stuff featuring the original soundtrack and sound effects from the movies, and some of the original actors.  There were some extra scenes that helped flesh out the stories a bit more too.  These were actually aired on NPR radio back in 1981 and 1983 respectively; probably timed to help build hype for the subsequent theatrical releases each time.  I distinctly remember as a kid huddling around my dads big honkin’ radio and listening to them.  “Star Wars” runs six and one-half hours, while “Empire Strikes Back” runs about five hours.  Unfortunately, the “Return of the Jedi” radio play lacked the same pizzazz as the previous two.  “Return of the Jedi” wasn’t recorded until 1996 and just falls flat in comparison to the previous two.  All three are available to buy, but I’d recommend you skip “Return” if you are listening to these.

You can also find some fan-created audio dramas online (or through iTunes).  I’ve listened to ones about Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Batman, and Doctor Who.  The quality varies, but they’ve got the right idea.  It’s worth a try if you’ve got a favorite niche.


HarryPotter AudiobooksAnother tool in my radio-less arsenal is audiobooks.  Early on, I tried tons of different audiobooks.  It took a while to get used to just one narrator after listening to so many full-cast audio dramas, but I managed.  I quickly came to some strong opinions on the medium.

  • Audiobooks are great for books that I lack the passion to read.  If it’s a book I’m dying to read, I want to sit down and read it myself.  If it’s a novel that I don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary for my own eyes to see each word, I’m good with an audiobook.
  • Avoid abridged versions of books for audiobooks. They typically suck. I’ve tried abridged versions a couple times and they are never very good.
  • I can’t just sit and listen to an audiobook. I have to doing something. Typically for me that is driving or sometimes yard work.

I found audiobooks very helpful in keeping up with the “Star Wars: New Jedi Order” novels.  I had no interest in sitting down and actually reading these novels myself.  However, I wanted to keep up with what was happening in the Star Wars expanded universe.  So the audiobooks provided a nice middle ground.  Admittedly they were abridged versions, but I felt that it was acceptable in these cases.  They managed to include great sound effects and music, so that softened the blow provided by the typically disappointing stories.

After a while, I discovered the unabridged Harry Potter audiobooks read by Jim Dale.  OMG!  These audiobooks are amazing!  The Harry Potter audiobooks are by far the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to.  In fact, I gave up reading the Harry Potter novels in favor of listening to the audiobooks.  I can’t recommend these highly enough.

I’ve also tried audiobooks by authors like Michael Crichton and John Grisham, but those typically are abridged.  Yuck.  Quick tip for you, avoid the unabridged “Fellowship of the Ring” like the plague. It’s something like 13 discs and the Tom Bombadil singing segments will make you want to swallow the barrel of a gun.  No kidding.


PodcastsWithin the past two years, I’ve fallen in love with podcasts.  What a great way to find audio product tailored to my interests.  I went from having to listen to my audio dramas and audiobooks multiple times in order to fill my daily commute, to now having more stuff available than I have time to listen to.  Obviously I’m partial to this medium as I participate in two different podcasts (The Unique Geek & Views from the Longbox).  I listen to podcasts primarily about comic books, but there are podcasts out there on just about everything and anything.  Someday I’ll have to list out all the podcasts that interest me.


In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I listen to music on rare occasion.  However, when I do it’s always something from my own collection.  Usually it’s movie soundtracks or music from the 1980s.  One of the fun things we do at my house is play my 1980’s compilation on random and let the kids dance around.  They love it!  They call it “Funky Dance Party”.  It’s hilarious to see an eight year old and a two year old bounce around to “Take On Me” by A-ha.  :)

About two years after I’d given up radio, I decided to try listening again as an experiment to see if there had been any change.  I was shocked and appalled that after two years away from the radio, I didn’t hear a single new song and the rotation had remained mostly the same.  How sad.  I’m glad I’m not still a radio listener.

And for those of you thinking, “Why doesn’t he just listen to NPR?  That would solve his music concerns.”  No thanks.  I’ve tried both NPR and sports radio.  Neither holds my interest.  But thanks for thinking of me!

Thanks to my buddy Michael Bailey (Views from the Longbox and Fortress of Baileytude) for inspiring this post by asking a question about audiobooks on THE UNIQUE GEEK listserv.

Finally, your local library is a great source for free audiobooks and radio plays.  Be sure to check them out!  Support your local library!

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5 Responses to “Radio-Free America”

  1. 44 Says:

    you tried sports radio…shocked is not the right word.

  2. Steven Marsh Says:

    I’m suprised NPR doesn’t hold your attention. Oh, well… to each his own. (The programs are hit and miss, but some of them are riveting; “This American Life,” in particular, is the source of many hours of happy listening.)

    I’m a bit surprised the BBC doesn’t get more of a nod here; they’re the ones who really continue hitting the audio-drama drum hard. Their productions are generally top-notch. Our library has the complete BBC production of the Sherlock Holmes stories, among others. And the BBC has also dabbled in the comic world, including “Batman: Knightfall,” “The Death of Superman,” and (IIRC) “Infinite Crisis.” Plus they also did adaptations of “Dark Empire” and “Dark Empire II” that exceeded the source comics (not a difficult feat, admittedly). Also, the Beeb recently did a radio-only Torchwood story, available for download here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/bigbang/torchwood.shtml

    If you’re running out of stuff to listen to, I’d also check out “Old-Time Radio,” which are (as the name suggests) radio broadcasts from the 1940s and ’50s. Many of these are public domain, and freely available; check out http://www.archive.org/details/oldtimeradio

    Some offerings are even more recent, like these Marvel Fantastic Four radio programs from the 1970s: http://www.archive.org/details/FantasticFour-10Episodes

  3. Shag Says:

    Hey guys – Thanks for the comments!

    Serv – I actually tried listening to Florida Marlin’s games on the radio. They were somewhat interesting, but only for so long.

    Steven – I think I’ve heard a few BBC audio dramas, but I don’t recall exactly. Thanks for the other suggestions!


  4. Kelson Says:

    The state of radio in the Los Angeles area was pretty dismal a few years ago, and I found myself listening… well, to NPR, until I finally got an iPod and started listening to my own collection on the road. It’s picked up a lot lately, and I’ve actually got more than two presets on my dial again. (Aside: why do we still call it a “dial?”)

  5. » Radio-Free America » Audio Books Says:

    […] Original post by Shag […]

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