The Born Freelancer on Producing Your Radio Drama Script

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.



Some time ago I wrote about the challenges and benefits of writing a radio drama script, especially for those who had never previously considered it. My posts dealt with researching the genre and writing the script.

Ideally, you will have submitted your script to any number of independent production companies or international public broadcasters for possible purchase. Sadly, our own CBC Radio has abandoned its historic role as Canada’s first national theatre by eliminating drama from its schedule as a result of draconian budget cuts.

But what if your script has not sold? Why not bring it to life yourself for the world to hear?

Aside from the satisfaction of hearing your words properly enacted, such a process will give you additional skills and experience, exposure and promotion of your brand and an exciting example of your creativity which you can use to help find future work.

Today I propose to outline the process of producing your own script on a “one-off” basis at little or no cost (assuming you have little or no money to do so).


Since you most likely won’t make money on this (at first, if ever) you probably can’t offer any. But you can offer young keen actors the opportunity to flex their dramatic vocal talents and give them an mp3 of their work. I’d try contacting local college drama courses or clubs. Talk to an instructor. They may help you out by making your project a class undertaking so participants will receive academic credit; or allowing you to use their studio space for rehearsals; or perhaps even offering you advice on directing.

Preliminary auditions can be done by phone. You don’t care what they look like. Email potentials part of the script. Get each to try a few different roles. Record these calls for reference.  You may not find the voices you wanted but you should still find voices which will work. Keep the group small. Actors can play multiple roles. Once you’ve found your core group, meet up for coffee to go over the script in detail. Hearing your words aloud may prompt additional editing.

Now, do you want to do your script “in house” at a community radio station? Or do you want to produce it on your own?

Community radio

Somewhere nearby is a volunteer campus/community station. Contact them to determine if they broadcast radio drama. If so, figure out how your project might fit in. If not, suggest how your radio drama would be good for them. It could be part of special programming to celebrate their anniversary. Or a fundraiser. Whatever. Make it attractive so that their needs and your needs are both met. In addition to administrative support you will also need their technical support. You may also find many voice actors among their volunteers.


You will need simple contracts or letters of understanding. Make sure you have all your rights preserved and that you have full control over the final production. With the station, you might grant rights to broadcast your work a certain number of times on a certain number of platforms. You should always retain full copyright and the right to place the finished project with other broadcasters or platforms. With performers, they must release to you the right to use their performances in your project without limitation. If you manage to sell the show elsewhere, there should be reference to how money would be allotted. IMHO, if you get paid so should your participants (after expenses).

Music & sound effects

If you use music from commercial recordings most stations have the right to use it under their broadcast music license. In Canada this is through SOCAN. You will not, however, have the right to use it on other platforms without payment of further licensing fees. (Consult SOCAN). If you use original music composed and performed by musicians who have signed an all-rights contract (keeping their copyright but granting you universal usage of their work within your project) you can avoid licensing issues.

Your script will need suitable sound effects. Some can be performed live in studio. Some will need to be prerecorded in advance on location. If your script is set in a factory you will need to record enough ambient sound to play underneath the dialogue. Or else take your actors on location to record them there. More about this in a moment.


You can first rehearse your actors away from the studio. These sessions should be recorded by you for evaluation and also to get them used to microphones. Most of your cast will not have had much experience in radio. It will be a learning process for everyone. If you have a character coming forward from the distance you will quickly learn that by starting their dialogue with head turned away and slowly turning to face the mic they will appear to be approaching. It is truly “theatre of the mind”. You will finally rehearse in studio with full cast, crew, music and sound effects most probably on the day of your production.

Live or recorded?

Whether your script is performed live or prerecorded will depend on a number of issues. Is it too complicated to do live? Are there too many scenes, too many effects? Also – when does the station propose airing it? An early morning slot might not suit your participants. Nor will it give you the time for a final rehearsal before broadcast.

On the other hand, nothing beats live to air for sheer excitement amongst your participants. It can result in an imperfect but incredibly energized production. (Minor mistakes can be edited out for later rebroadcast). Either way be sure you get a master recording. Your contract should stipulate this and also make it clear that it belongs to you.

Any show done in front of a live audience introduces unique challenges and benefits beyond the scope of this post. See my Radio Project X interview for details of one such production.


The distribution of your show is taken care of by the station. It goes out over their airwaves! Most also have an online presence. Your contract should make clear whether they have streaming rights or whether they can host a podcast. (This can save you money. You can send anyone wishing to hear your project to their site.) On the other hand, if you want to sell the production elsewhere, or place it on other community stations, you may need to limit their online usage.

On your own

You can also record it without any station. You will still need to audition actors and get contracts with all your participants.

The big difference is that you will need to use whatever portable recording equipment you already have to record your actors and eventually mix in sound effects and music (keeping in mind licensing issues.)

You can create makeshift studios anywhere but be aware of the acoustics and background noise. Or you may record outside. If your scene is in a park, record in a park. (Watch those rustling scripts!) If your scenes take place on the street, record on the street. Be aware recording on private property may require permission from its owners.

Either way, so now what?

Once recorded, you might try selling your show to the public broadcasters which turned down your script. They may be more interested in an actual production. You should also try various online program exchanges, when appropriate, such as PRX or Transom.

You can offer it to various community stations. You probably won’t get paid – unless you can find a “corporate” sponsor or crowdfund it – but many will be happy to run it. You’ll still need suitable contracts, of course.

Or you may set up your own website and offer your production as streaming audio or a podcast. You will need to promote it so people know where to find it.

There are also many audio sites (such as SoundCloud) where you can upload your project for listeners to download at their convenience at little or no cost to you.

Be sure to give all your participants a copy and keep them well fed during the process if you can afford it.

The takeaway

Writing radio drama is never a waste of time. If you can’t sell it, why not produce it? You will gain invaluable skills, make useful contacts and create a novel listening experience that will enhance your brand.

Unfortunately, you won’t get rich quick at it. For now, it is a labour of love. Making independent radio drama production financially viable on a sustaining basis remains the ultimate hurdle for its devotees to overcome. Crowdfunding and “corporate” sponsorships may become part of the solution. With CBC Radio abandoning drama, the genre now needs new freelance blood in Canada to reimagine and revitalize it like never before.

This has been the briefest of brief outlines of the process. Apologies to radio drama veterans who know better. Of course, there is a lot more to it and it is a lot of hard work to do well. The learning curve can be steep but also highly rewarding.

It is also the most fun I have ever had while working on a creative team project.

Posted on February 27, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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