I almost didn’t write this post for fear that you guys will think I’m even more of an old than I even am, but a) fuck it and b) there’s a way in which everything old is new again, so bear with me.  *takes deep breath*  OK, so when I was a young fan, a lot of my fannish life happened over the RADIO.  Yes, RADIO, that–I was about to say, that weird looking box with dials on it, but you probably don’t even have a radio. (*Shut up, shut up, I can’t hear you, la la I am going to live forever!*)  But you probably listen to something like radio on Spotify, or you listen to podcasts, or you might even use an app to listen to some great legacy radio station in your area.  So imagine you had a dedicated box just for that.

Anyway, in the before-times, radio then–like podcasts now–was a way to do fandom.  Music people know this of course, but I’m both a fan and a theatre person, and man, radio theatre was the best, and fannish radio theatre even better.  Britain had and still has a really strong radio drama tradition, which is smart because it lets them produce new plays by new writers for a fraction of the cost of a staged production.  But NPR in the US used to do radio drama too–they had a show called NPR Playhouse / Sounds of Theatre which I was devoted to.  

I have two particularly strong fannish memories from this era. First,  the joy of hearing the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on radio. Douglas Adams wrote Hitchhikers for radio and radio is the best way to experience it  – I mean, Zaphod having two heads and three arms is radio joke if there ever was one, and then all these poor TV and film people had to figure out how to actually get an actor with a second head. (Footnote 1).  I backtrack here to say that if you don’t know what I’m talking about, never read or saw any version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, click on the link and have yourself a whale of a time (or a bowl of petunias of a time.) (Sorry, the whole Hitchhiker’s thing makes me instantly 12 years old FOREVER. My whole world is Hitchhikers, Star Wars, and Doctor Who– Five.) 

Moving on: the second great fannish radio experience was NPR’s dramatized version of Star Wars, which had Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels playing their original roles, and Perry King as Han Solo – Perry King, you will remember (who am I kidding, you will absolutely not remember, but anyway), became a fan-favorite for a show called Riptide, so that was okay, too. And they expanded the text! And added new scenes!  I can remember Mark Hamill giving an interview talking about how different it was to play the part for radio; he talked about how you had to sort of put movement in your voice at all times: “I’m–grunt–putting on my–harumph–jacket!” But he was great at it–obviously, since he’s become such a famous voice actor since. And it’s wonderful that podcasting has brought theatre and fandom back into the medium of sound – podcasts are the obvious new media version of all this.

Okay, so bring this back to fan studies, these personal fannish reminiscences (and awesome links—you’re welcome!)  are brought to you by Martin Cooper’s book Radio Legacy in Popular Culture: The Sounds of British Broadcasting Over the Decades (Bloombury, 2022, excerpt available at the link).  Make no mistake, this is a fannish book in its way – Cooper is interested not just in radio but in artistic works that are in some way about radio, which he regards explicitly as fanworks about radio: 

In the case of fandom it could be alternative storylines; in our case of radio listening, it can be a reinterpretation of what has been heard on the airwaves. Hence, it is plausible to think of the responses I analyse in the chapters that follow as reinterpretations and critiques of radio listening; that they have been produced by professional writers and musicians makes them less of a subculture and more of a series of transformative texts that extend the meaning and understanding of the medium of radio. They are portrayals of the everyday action of listening to the radio: of paying attention to the programmes, the discussions, the documentaries, the dramas, the daily shows and the DJs. 

Note that the book has a specifically British focus, but British music and drama have influenced fandoms all over the world. I mean, Radio, Radio; Video Killed The Radio Star; Oh Yeah (There’s a Band Playing On The Radio), Radio Clash –Cooper frames all these songs as part of a British transformative fannish response to the medium.  Radio on! 

–Francesca Coppa, fanhackers volunteer

(1) I got the chance to meet Mark Wing-Davey, who played Zaphod Beeblebrox both on the original radio show and on the BBC show–he’s a big-shot theatre director now, but I honestly could not keep my inner 12 year old under control: I basically had my fists stuffed in my mouth because OMG Zaphod Beeblebrox!!! my heart!! and finally I just kind of choked out, “sorry, I can’t–excuse me” and fled the dinner. *facepalm*

Radio, Radio!