Remember radio plays?
Okay, maybe let’s back up a bit. Have you heard of radio plays?
Back in the day, if you wanted to get your storytelling fix, long before there was such a thing as the internet and before you could turn on the television, you depended on the radio. There, you could lose yourself in swashbuckling adventures, curious mysteries, and rollicking comedy from the comfort of your own home.
While radio plays stayed alive and relevant in places like Great Britain, they were pushed out of the popular consciousness with the rise of movies, television, and eventually the internet. It’s understandible but also a shame because like reading a book, radio plays and audio dramas can be wonderful escapist entertainment that lets your imagination do what your imagination does best.
Thanks to the rise in podcasting, we’re seeing a second act for audio drama in American pop culture. The last few years have seen great anthologies, contained stories, and epic sagas find new audiences and remind us why this artform lives on.
Interested to step in to the world of audio drama? Here’s ten options to get you started along with the itch that each of them might scratch based on what kind of TV shows and movies you might like.
If you’re missing The X-Files, check out The Message
The Message is an eight-part story written by sci-fi playright Mac Rogers, each episode is framed as a new podcast from Nicky Tomalin, who is embedded with a cryptology team attempting to decode a message from outer space first received 70 years ago. The problem is that anyone who hears the message gets sick and eventually dies. So that’s a problem.
What sets The Message apart is that it’s some of the best voice acting you’ll come across and each episode is tightly-paced and leaves you wanting more. Don’t be surprised if you churn through this show in a few hours.
If you’re missing Fringe, check out Limetown
“Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.” That’s the set-up for this podcast that follows reporter Lia Haddock as she tries to piece together the mystery left behind by a town full of scientists doing unknown experiments.
If the only podcast you’ve ever listened to is Serial, you’ll appreciate the setup here. It follows a very similar look and feel before eventually veering into a world of strange occurrences, creepy visitors, and shocking discoveries.
If you’re missing Twin Peaks, check out Welcome to Night Vale
Considered by many to be the gold standard of the modern audio drama, WtNV is a faux-NPR broadcast of the “news, announcements and advertisements” from the desert town of Night Vale. It’s comedic, creepy, and extremely addictive. Attentive listeners start to pick up on recurring reference to characters, events, and creations out of a Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft story.
It’s a dense podcast to dive into, with 90 full episodes, a bunch of bonus episodes, books related to the program, and the potential for more episodes on the way. But if you’re willing to push through the “what am I listening to” phase into the “this is weird and amazing and I can’t stop listening” phase, you’ll be hooked.
If you’re missing Stephen King stories, check out Alice Isn’t Dead
From the people behind Welcome to Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead takes a more straight-forward approach to the world of Stephen King-esque horror. Told entirely in narration by a woman crossing the country in a big rig searching for her girlfriend Alice, it brings you into a world full of disturbing creatures living among us…when they’re not eating us. There’s more to it than that but it’s the storytelling, which vacillates between playful and ominous, that keeps us moving forward just like that truck.
Fun Fact: The unnamed woman who narrates the entire podcast is played by Jasika Nicole, a.k.a. Astrid from Fringe.
If you’re missing Ghost Hunters, check out The Black Tapes
Another audio drama that wisely taps into Serial-style storytelling, it follows reporter Alex Reagan as she delves into the world of the paranormal. After meeting paranormal skeptic Dr. Richard Strand, she discovers a collection of “black tapes” in his office. These are the creepy stories he has yet been unable to debunk. And so, they set out to attempt to debunk them. You can guess where things go from there.
The bonus of The Black Tapes is that the many scary tales woven into the fabric of the show are the same ones scaring the pants out of people across the internet already. You’ll recognize appearances from The Tall Man and other eerily-familiar campfire stories.
If you’re missing LOST, check out Tanis
From the same people as The Black Tapes, Tanis takes a different tack. This show is one reporter’s quest to find out whether or not the mysterious place referred to as Tanis is real. What is Tanis? Well that’s the point of the show. Each episode delves deeper into the mystery, which involved an ever-growing number of people and places.
There’s a foreboding sense of dread hanging over the show, because you can’t help but feel as though host Nic Silver is getting way in over his head and doesn’t quite understand the danger he’s stepping into. And the more he learns, the bigger the mystery seems to get.
If you’re missing Masters of Horror, check out The NoSleep Podcast
NoSleep is a subreddit where people can share original scary stories and creepy experiences. Matt Hansen came up with the idea of doing a podcast where the top stories would be narrated in audiobook style. Hence, The NoSleep Podcast.
Now in the midst of its seventh season, this is the go-to place when you’re looking to get creeped out. If you’re asking why someone would want to do that, it’s probably not for you. If the idea of turning off the lights and immersing yourself in a ghost story sounds fun, this is all you.
If you’re missing The Walking Dead, check out We’re Alive
The original version of this audio drama actually dates back to 2009 but if you’re looking for a way to fill your zombie fix, it still holds up. The story follows a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse in Los Angeles. The original story actually lasted four seasons and was then followed by We’re Alive: Lockdown, a standalone companion drama set in a prison.
If you’re missing found footage horror, check out Archive 81
Eschewing the Serial style for more of a found footage style, this podcast is about Daniel Powell, who vanished three months ago after taking a job with the Housing Historical Committee of New York State. Before disappearing, Powell sent tapes to his friend that include his experience as well as the experiences of a woman named Melody Pendras, who lived in a strange apartment complex. It’s dense and requires you to pay attention, but the payoff is a creepy story that gets creepier with each revelation.