Okay so we all know who shot J.R. But if you normally spend your time glued to your television watching the latest episode of your favorite soap, you should think about gluing your ear to the radio instead.
No, this isn’t some weird pastime we’re about to introduce you to. Instead it’s the simple act of listening to a soap opera instead of watching one. After all, the radio is where this most humble of programs first came to life – and it’s still going strong right now.
These programs owe their very nickname to the fact that soap companies sponsored them back in those very early days of the 1930s. Ironically, the idea of a soap opera back then was to create a program that could be listened to while women did their housework!
The creators couldn’t have known just how popular the concept would become, and how it would develop when television came along. Viewers tuning in to see soap operas regularly stretch into the millions, and even today there are popular soaps on the radio as well.
The very first soap opera to grace the airwaves was a program called Painted Dreams. It premiered on the radio way back in October 1930 and proved a big success, airing until July 1943.
We have Irna Phillips, an actress with WGN radio station back then, to thank for the birth of the soap opera. While the original idea for a 15 minute show to air on a daily basis came from WGN, Irna took it and ran with it. In the end she actually created 4 successful radio soap operas, all of which made the leap to television as well. One of her most successful efforts, Guiding Light, only finished back in 2009. As the World Turns finished the year after (although this was never on radio in the first place) and Days of Our Lives, which similarly became a TV only affair.
But while many of Irna’s creations ran for decades, you have to look to British shores to find the longest running radio soap opera of all. The Archers has broadcast over 16,000 episodes. The show was piloted on BBC Radio in 1950 and commenced regular broadcasting on New Year’s Day the following year. The Archers celebrated its 60th anniversary in January 2011.
Modern Radio Soaps
Radio soap operas have survived into modern times and even The Archers shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. While both television and the internet could both have spelled the end for radio soaps, this hasn’t been the case. They continue to attract a solid audience who are hooked on the twists and turns of these dramas.
In fact even the internet has gotten in on the act, as a show called Scripts and Scruples has proved. This podcast soap opera is already on its 881st episode, which just goes to show how well it is doing. Available as an MP3 file, this takes radio soap dramas into a new era.
So even in this modern era of broadband internet and high definition television, the simplicity of listening in to a radio soap opera still has that same quality it did back in 1930 when it all got going.