By Andrés Muñoz

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the word “pod” is… yes, you got it: Podcast, the talk shows of our time. A space where humans have real conversations about real issues, where the spoken word conveys a sense of eavesdropping. You are, essentially, a fly on the wall in the presenters’ discussion. 

Nowadays, the podcast market is chock-full of different topics. There are huge podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience, where the former UFC commentator has politicians, billionaires, and intellectuals as guests. Each episode averages around 11 million listeners. Conversely, you can find stuff like Philosophize This!, a show that for almost 10 years has offered its listeners a concise unpacking of classic philosophical elements.

But here’s a question for you… when was the last time you read a fiction book? A real page-turner, with character development, twists and turns, and overarching narratives? And, did you know that you can now tune into them like you do a Podcast? 

Audio dramas, also known as podbooks (not to be confused with POD books), are audio equivalents of our classic novels. Created in the 1930s, radio dramas—as they were called back then—were the first generation of audio-based stories for the public.

The Mind Sees What The Ears Hear

What I like the most about audio dramas is that, unlike film and television, you’re not receiving a visual stimulus. That might seem an odd thing to say, especially from someone who majored in photography and worked in the film industry! 

Allow me to explain: 

While fascinating, visual-based content is a different mental exercise than its audio counterpart. While watching Inception or Netflix’s The Sandman, for instance, you accept that Leonardo Dicaprio or Tom Sturridge are the protagonists, period. There’s no way around it. With an audio drama, your brain paints the picture of whoever you are listening to instead. 

While the drama’s narrator will obviously describe the characters’ appearances, the mental images are yours and yours alone. I find this fascinating, as even though we are all listening to the same story, the way we see it corresponds to our personal, and often vastly different, mental landscapes. 

Another element in audio dramas’ favour is the nostalgia factor. Just as many of us buy vinyl records and enjoy analogue photography just as people used to do in the 20th Century. Audio dramas are an evocative call to the Golden Age of Radio, between 1920 and 1950, when radio was the key form of entertainment. 

Now that you’ve had a primer on audio dramas, where do you start? While Spotify obviously has increased its content creation initiatives, and audio dramas are a part of it, Podchaser has over 500 audio dramas for you to browse and enjoy! Surprisingly, YouTube is also an excellent repository of audio dramas of all kinds, as is the BBC’s website. 

Science Fiction/Cyberpunk Extravaganza

My first recommendation is The Fourth Ambit. It is a nine-part sci-fi series focusing on murder, blackmail, and artificial intelligence. It was originally created in 2001 by a voice actors group from Seattle but has been relaunched in the highest audio quality available. It’s a fully immersive experience thanks to the original music and sound effects created specifically for this production.

Obituaries And Occult Galore

Next, I suggest Death by Dying, a dive into the world of the supernatural. The obituary writer of Crestfall, Idaho, finds himself investigating a stream of odd deaths involving “murderous farmers, man-eating cats, haunted bicycles, and a healthy dose of ominous shadows“. Its writer, Evan Gulock, has aimed to combine humour and horror and has neatly done so in these 30-minute episodes.

Don’t. Fall. Asleep.

What would you do if you finished your late night shift and discovered that everyone who went to sleep last night was dead? A new pandemic hits us this time, but no masks, no coughing. You just don’t wake up after going to sleep. Eerily released a few months before COVID, The Edge Of Sleep tells the story of a man and a band of survivors that must uncover the secret behind this epidemic before it’s too late.

Romance, Audio, And Many Questions

Not everything is science fiction, death, and destruction; here’s one for romance fans. 36 Questions is a three-part look into the world of musicals. Starring Jessie Shelton and Jonathan Groff, the story is about an estranged couple trying to find love again by asking themselves the 36 Questions That Lead To Love. It is an intimate, emotional and sentimental exploration that opens the door to a new format: pod-musicals. 

Audio dramas allow people to close their eyes and paint stories and adventures with their minds. Initially, it might seem like a daunting idea, but I wholeheartedly recommend it. What other audio dramas or audio-based content would you like to recommend? Let us know in the comments section below!