In early 2005, when working as a Development Producer at BBC Radio Drama in London, I was asked to come up with a project that would "raise the profile" of the artform. I've always felt that radio drama (or Audio Drama) is undervalued as a medium in its own right, and was more than happy to attempt to fulfil this objective.
I had recently attended the EBU Radio Drama Conference, where I was inspired by a presentation with Nathalie Singer who, at the time, was working for Berlin-based Deutschlandradio Kultur on some wonderful mini-dramas that were capturing a new audience. She told us all about the ways in which her station would take audio drama beyond radio, holding communal listening sessions in parks, planeteria and airports. Now, the BBC is the biggest radio drama producer in the world, in terms of output and audience, but there is a great deal of ignorance about the artform beyond those making it and they, understandably, feel unloved and ignored. Bit if German radio had the balls to shout about what they were doing, why shouldn't the BBC?
Thus began an idea for a big, shouty, impossible to ignore Radio Drama project that was cross-platform, 360 degrees, multi-media and would encompass any of the other fairly meaningless buzz-words that were doing the rounds within the Corporation at the time.
I felt that a communal listening experience was the key, in order to demonstrate the "wide-screen", immersive potential of the medium. I eventually settled on the London iMax cinema which has an extraordinary sound system. But then the visual element had to be addressed. a pitch-black cinema? A blue screen? The latter seemed too Derek Jarman, and there was something underwhelming about the idea of projecting Windows Media Player fractals.
So my next thought to commission film-makers to create non-narrative visuals to work with the audio which would carry all of the narrative information. I had no idea whether or not this would work but started to pitch the idea to the BBC. There was, however, no-one in-house willing to stump up the cash so I took the idea to the Arts Council who, to my surprise, loved it. They suggested teaming up with Film London's Artist Moving Image Network and thus began the co-production between Film London and the BBC.
Meanwhile I was becoming more aware of the cross-platform research taking place within the audio department at the BBC, where the concept of visual radio was being developed. Very exciting work was being done at Radio 1, which is more or less "platform-agnostic": it's a brand which delivers video, audio, text and games on radio, tv, mobiles etc. All this thinking has influenced the development of the City Speaks, which will be available on tv, online, at cinemas and, let's not forget, on radio.
Ultimately this is an experiment and, simply by the fact that it has happened, is a success. However, I am also very proud at the quality of some of the 6 works which re-examine the relationship between audio and visuals in an entertaining, intelligent and accessible way.