chapter  8
19 Pages

“Your Ears are a Portal to Another World”: The New Radio Documentary Imagination and the Digital Domain

WithVirginia Madsen

It is almost impossible to approach the subject of the documentary in radio today without invoking an earlier time when the radio documentary fi eld was born, appeared to wear itself out, and then found itself in the midst of a new wave. Prior to the most recent pronouncements of the death of radio via digital convergence, it was television that threatened to eclipse sound broadcasting. Many in the industry believed this even before the 1950s came to an end, as television spread and radio audiences dwindled, especially for once popular radio genres. This was the era when radio, still so young in reality, began to take on a patina of age. In The Radio Reader (2002), Michele Hilmes wrote: “[B]y 1955 the vast bulk of radio’s established programming capital was hard at work bringing in profi ts for television…. Radio, gutted and demoralized, struggled to adapt…. Meantime, as so often happens in history, to the victor went the spoils of memory.”3 Hilmes is referring to the American context here, but nevertheless strong evidence elsewhere supports the view that a crisis situation existed for radio across commercial and public models internationally by the mid-to late 1960s, even as European, Australian, and Canadian public

broadcasting institutions continued to support and innovate “older” traditions and formats which featured classic “built programming” styles.