The Columbia Workshop and the Poetics of Sound
Although wireless storytelling was still in its early stages, it didn’t take long for radio to mature. Vital to the literary turn in radio, as chapter two shows, was the prestige movement launched by the underdog CBS network, which became a haven for inventive radio auteurs whose creative output rescued broadcast culture (at least for a spell) from the pull of daytime soaps and for-profit programming. American network radio was barely ten years old when CBS debuted the Columbia Workshop in the summer of 1936. The aim of the Workshop was to produce serious radio literature by pushing the envelope of playwriting as well as broadcast technology. Not only Orson Welles but other writers who moved into radio—including Norman Corwin, Arch Oboler, and Archibald MacLeish—were invited to press the boundaries of radiophonic storytelling. During the course of its eight-year run, the Workshop aired nearly 400 works for radio, many of them bold and experimental exceptions to what listeners ordinarily heard. Prestige radio contributed to what many saw as a novel body of enduring literature, a virtual public library that allowed CBS to characterize itself not just as a broadcaster but as a publisher.
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