The Born Freelancer on the Rebirth of Radio Drama in Canada


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.


Just over a year ago I wrote about the death of drama at CBC Radio, that is, the format – not any behind the scenes backbiting! Lamenting the end of a noble and legendary genre on the Mothercorp I concluded, in part…

Here is my prediction – radio drama is not dead in this country. . . It will now pass fully into the hands of entrepreneurial freelancers to take complete control of and do entirely for themselves. . . The radio dramatists of the future will not only write and act and produce their own work but will also distribute it/ sell it/ market it themselves. . . I see this as an enormously exciting opportunity for the rebirth of the unique artform of radio drama as well as the opportunity for freelancers to once again step up to the (aural) plate and resume doing what we do best – telling stories about ourselves, to ourselves. By doing so we will again become world class at it. Not because that is our goal – but because I believe radio drama is programmed into our country’s creative DNA. What other form of theatre can instantaneously transverse this vast nation and reach its geographically scattered audiences so readily, so imaginatively and so meaningfully?

Long live Canadian audio drama – on radio, streaming online, via podcasts and/or utilizing platforms currently unknown. Freelancers will definitely be making more Canadian radio drama happen in the future just as we have always done right from its birth.

Today I’m delighted to profile a group of young Canadian freelancers who are doing exactly what I was talking about – they are creating and marketing their own unique brand of radio drama (and comedy) entertainment via podcasts on the internet. Entitled “Radio Project X” and based in Toronto, here is my edited Q & A with one of its key co-founding members, Neil Jones.

RPX 2013 07,08 banner


Radio Project X: The Interview

THE BORN FREELANCER: So, Neil, what is Radio Project X and how did it come to be?


NEIL JONES:  Radio Project X came out of two previous groups. In 2006, I started a sketch group called Radio Vault. . . performing from scripts as was done in the days of live radio. . . [we] did all-new monthly shows for nearly two years and performed to good reviews at the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival in 2007.

Near the end of Radio Vault, I met Peter Church who, along with Sean Wayne Doyle, had been writing, performing, and recording audio dramas, very much in the style of old-time radio, under the title Radio’s Revenge. Peter, Sean and I teamed up and Radio Project X was born. From April 2012 to April 2013 we wrote and performed a dozen all-new shows, about 16 hours’ worth of material. It doesn’t seem like a lot to us, but others seem to think it’s quite an accomplishment.

TBF:  But you’ve stretched yourselves creatively beyond the basic sketch format, haven’t you?

NEIL JONES:  Around the third show, we decided to try our hand at literary adaptations, and have since done about half a dozen, either from stories in the public domain or original, authorized adaptations (the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust graciously gave us permission to adapt Sturgeon’s “The Other Celia”, and were very pleased with the results). Sean, Peter, and I share a love of old radio serials, and some of our longer original comedy pieces are very much in the vein of something one would hear on the radio in the 1940s or 1950s, the camp sci-fi three-act play “Invasion of the Cheesemen” and the ongoing “I Smell A Mystery” series being favourites with the cast and audiences.

TBF:  I’m sure lots of freelancers dream of involvement with a project like yours! So – how is it run, and how do interested freelancers get involved?

NEIL JONES:  In terms of the performers, the group is run as a collective. We currently have a roster of nearly 30 performers, and we cast show

Radio Project X Logo

s based on availability. It’s working out well so far.

We’re now at the point where people are asking to be part of the show, which is flattering. After coming to the shows regularly, film and TV composer Amin Bhatia offered to compose some music for us, just for the fun of it. This is someone we could never, ever afford! . . . It’s this sense of community, that we are building something worthwhile that makes doing Radio Project X so much fun. . .

(To contact the show or to submit a demo reel if interested in performing, you can contact Neil directly at

TBF:  Can you tell us about what kind of reaction your radio shows have received so far, both in person and online?

NEIL JONES:  Our shows at The Black Swan [tavern in Toronto where shows are recorded “live” in front of an audience] have been hits, with capacity audiences for most shows. Word of mouth has been great. Ticket giveaways to get new audience in the door, and Peter’s aggressive Facebook promotions have helped us to increase our base audience. I think that the novelty of our shows – this is a format most audiences have never seen – has worked in our favour, as well as allowing us to produce a new show every month. Knowing each show is new keeps people interested.

We’ve had some success with our podcasts with nice messages from listeners in England and Australia, and interest from OTR [“old time radio”] and radio drama blogs. This is our fifth interview. We are hoping to increase our podcast offerings in the very near future (there are a least four shows yet to be mixed), including getting ourselves on iTunes, and greater promotion of our adaptations.

TBF: Did you ever listen to drama or comedy (using a dramatized format) on CBC Radio?

NEIL JONES:  I did. I feel it’s sad that as a supposedly not-for-profit national cultural network, CBC radio has all but stopped producing radio drama and scripted comedy. I have fond memories of “The Frantics Radio Show”, “The Royal Canadian Air Farce” (which did not survive the transition to television, in my opinion), “The Chumps”, and “Double Exposure”. Recently I came across a CBC series called “The Vanishing Point” from the 1980s, excellent radio adaptations of J.G. Ballard stories and I have memories of hearing an adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Word for the World is Forest.” Can you imagine the CBC broadcasting, let alone commissioning such a thing these days? I also seem to recall the CBC running NPR’s “Star Wars” radio adaptation, a real treat for an eleven year old in the pre-VCR days!

TBF:  What other memorable radio drama and dramatized comedy aside from the CBC have you enjoyed/can you credit as inspiration?

NEIL JONES: The internet has given people access to an incredible amount of audio. BBC Radio 4 and BBC 4 Extra are high on my list, producing excellent drama and repeating classic radio comedies and serials. The best things in the last little while: a great series of plays based on the novels of Raymond Chandler and a fantastic adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”. And of course, the comedy! Everything from “Steptoe and Son” (a radio adaptation of a great TV show) to “The Goon Show”, “Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel”, and “The Burkiss Way”. More modern offerings such as “Beautiful Dreamers”, “iGod”, “Bigipedia”, “Kevin Eldon’s Speakers” and “No Tomatoes” have had an influence on my writing. I’ve almost stopped listening to music radio at this point, with much of my listening being audio drama, documentary, and comedy. . .

TBF:  Do you feel any pressure to be Canadian, to help fill the void in specifically Canadian radio drama now that the CBC has officially abrogated its responsibilities to do so?

NEIL JONES:  I don’t think of our shows as Canadian per se. We don’t have any nationalistic mandate. We’re not ticking boxes to get grant money. I suppose most of our show is Canadian by dint of being written by and performed Canadians, and some of the references are Canadian, though we are not very topical. If our shows get people interested in radio drama and comedy, and create a community in which others might explore the medium, we’d be very happy indeed.

TBF:  Do you have any philosophy or thoughts on radio drama in general as a creative medium?

NEIL JONES:  I think it’s fantastic! We’ve lost a lot of our imagination thanks to films and the attention-span-killing YouTube. Of all the mediums, I think radio is the closest to reading, in terms of using the imagination. Digital recording and editing has made it possible for nearly anyone with the inclination to produce great-sounding shows. And a sci-fi extravaganza with a billion exploding planets and spaceships costs no more to make than a kitchen-sink two-hander. It’s an exciting time.

TBF: With the advent podcasting and distribution via the internet do you feel that traditional radio broadcasters are still necessary for producing quality radio drama?

NEIL JONES:  We’ve lost collective listening, but podcasts have given anyone a chance to produce their own stories, for better and for worse. There are so many podcasts of questionable quality to wade through. Aggregators and iTunes help with the selection process a bit, but I don’t think that anything can replace a radio producer with a vision, and that we absolutely need an organization such as the BBC to commission (and pay writers and performers) to keep audio drama and comedy alive.

TBF:  So is this a labour of love or are any of you making any money on it yet?

NEIL JONES:  At this point, it’s certainly not a money maker. But, thanks to our supportive audiences, we are not running in the red, and have always been able to cover theatre rental, our other costs, and even buy some new equipment for the show. . .

TBF:  Finally… Any advice to other freelance dramatists who wish to do independent radio drama post-CBC in Canada?


* Learn how to use the technology, how to record, how to mix. So many amateur productions sound… amateurish. There’s no excuse for that anymore.

* Tell your own stories. Don’t be afraid to try new formats, old formats, or to mix them up. Give yourself a deadline and produce something. Don’t wait for someone else.

* Also, don’t take “accepted wisdom” as true. Trust the audience. They will accept comedy and drama in the same show. They will watch three actors in a 30-minute drama performed in a 60-year old format if the story and delivery is compelling.

* If you are doing adaptations, put in the effort to find out if the work is in the public domain before using it, or get permission. Even if the story is in the public domain, let the estate of the writer know of your adaptation as a courtesy, as we did with our Philip K. Dick adaptations. Offer proper credit to your performers and contributors, and if using creative commons music, be sure to credit the composers as specified on their CC agreements, and send them a link to your production! Often they are thrilled to hear how their creations are being repurposed.


Clearly we are still in the very early fledgling days of evolving from CBC Radio drama to independently produced shows that can be profitable enough to be fully self-sustaining. However, the shape and direction of the genre’s future in this country are now being forged anew by determined and visionary freelancers such as Neil Jones and his colleagues.

Many thanks to Neil Jones for his time and energy in responding to my many questions. I can’t begin to say how inspiring I find his project and I can only hope it will encourage other groups in other communities across Canada to set up and discover the magic of radio drama for themselves (along with their audiences.) And I really appreciate that Radio Project X seems so positively influenced by so much of dramatized radio’s past. They are therefore truly part of its continuing story. Only through awareness of our history can we find the key to our future.

UPDATE: The next two all-new Radio Project X tapings will be held on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 and Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at the Black Swan Tavern, 154 Danforth Avenue in Toronto at 8 p.m.

For podcasts and more information, you can visit their website,


Posted on July 18, 2013 at 9:05 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments via RSS

  1. Written by Kathleen Flaherty
    on July 25, 2013 at 8:26 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Here’s the thing: yes, there is a desire and affection for radio drama; no, there hasn’t been a way to make sure everyone gets paid appropriately for doing it. I think it can be done by online subscription and I truly hope someone makes that happen. There is a huge amount of creativity possible in audio drama, but so far no way to make it pay for itself.

  2. Written by The Born Freelancer
    on July 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Thank you, Kathleen, for your thoughts which deserve a more detailed follow up in a future post. In the meantime, I’d also like to thank you for your past work on CBC Radio drama and documentaries over the years which has provided me and others with so many, many happy hours of listening.

Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leave a Reply