Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dramas of Sci-Fi Stories by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Image by Mr.Hasgaha, via Flickr Commons

If you dig through our archives, you can find no shortage of finely-produced radio dramatizations of your favorite science fiction stories. During the 1950s, NBC's Dimension X adapted stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and even Kurt Vonnegut. Later in the '50s, X Minus One continued that tradition, dramatizing stories by Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson and others. By the 1970s, Mind Webs got into the act and produced 188 adaptations--classics by Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. And the BBC did up Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Those productions will keep you busy for a good while. But if you're wondering what the 1980s delivered, then tune into Sci-Fi Radio, a series of 26 half-hour shows which aired on NPR Playhouse, starting in 1989. Some of the adapted stories include: "Sales Pitch" and "Imposter" by Philip K. Dick, "Diary of the Rose" and "Field of Vision" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "Wall of Darkness" by Arthur C. Clarke, and "Frost and Fire" by Ray Bradbury.

You can stream all episodes below, or over at Archive.orgSci-Fi Radio will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Hope you enjoy.

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American Archive of Public Broadcasting Lets You Stream 7,000 Hours of Historic Public TV & Radio Programs

An archive worth knowing about: The Library of Congress and Boston's WGBH have joined forces to create The American Archive of Public Broadcasting and "preserve for posterity the most significant public television and radio programs of the past 60 years." Right now, they're overseeing the digitization of approximately 40,000 hours of programs. And already you can start streaming "more than 7,000 historic public radio and television programs."

The collection includes local news and public affairs programs, and "programs dealing with education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion, and even filmmaking." You can browse the complete collection here. Or search the archive here. For more on the archive, read this About page.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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30 Hours of Doctor Who Audio Dramas Now Free to Stream Online

"Yes, this should provide adequate sustenance for the Doctor Who marathon," once said The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy while pushing a wheelbarrow full of fast-food tacos down the street. As the embodiment of fandom for all things fantasy and sci-fi, he would certainly know that Doctor Who, no longer an obscure BBC television show but an ever-expanding fictional universe with a global fan base, constitutes the ideal material for binge-watching, which he could now do at his convenience on a service like Britbox. But it isn't just watching: now, on Spotify (whose free software you can download here if you don't have it already), you can binge-listen to thirty straight hours of Doctor Who audio dramas as well.

"An icon of modern British culture and the longest-running science-fiction TV show in history, Doctor Who has never been more popular than it is today," wrote Christopher Bahn in the AV Club's 2010 primer on the series, which had relaunched five years earlier after initially running from 1963 to 1989. "No matter who’s playing the lead, the basic premise has been essentially the same since the show’s debut: A mysterious, eccentric alien known only as The Doctor (not 'Doctor Who,' in spite of the title) travels through time and space having adventures and fighting evil. He’s usually accompanied by one or two humans picked up along the way. They journey with him in a time machine called a TARDIS, which looks like a blue phone booth."


This format "allowed the show to literally go anywhere in the universe and sometimes outside it, with virtually limitless storytelling possibilities." At its best, "Doctor Who relied on solid, imaginative scripts to create smart science-fiction thrillers with a humanistic, anti-authoritarian heart. Consistently popular through the 1960s and 1970s, the show began to falter in the following decade as tight budgets and questionable artistic choices took their toll." After its cancellation in 1989, Doctor Who "lived on through the ’90s, as science-fiction shows often do, in the wilderness genres of semi-official novels and radio plays."

The best known of these Doctor Who radio plays, which you can hear on this playlist, come produced by a company called Big Finish. Having acquired a license from the BBC in 1999 (and recently renewed it into 2025), they've put out a range of audio dramas, both one-offs and series of various lengths, using not just the characters but many of the actual actors from the television show, including six of those who have taken on the iconic Doctor role onscreen. Owing to the fact that Doctor Who officially has no canon and thus no need for continuity, rigorous or otherwise, they can get even more imaginative than their source material, going so far as to explore counterfactual storylines such as one where the Doctor never leaves his home planet in the first place.

Below you'll find a complete list, assembled by a fan on Reddit, of the series and episodes of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas now available on Spotify. The material comes to thirty hours in total, but the question of when to listen to it falls second to a more important consideration: what sort of sustenance will best ensure that you can keep up with all of the Doctor's audio adventures?

Main Range:

  1. The Sirens of Time
  2. Phantasmagoria
  3. Whispers of Terror
  4. The Land of the Dead
  5. The Fearmonger
  6. The Marian Conspiracy
  7. The Genocide Machine
  8. Red Dawn
  9. The Spectre of Lanyon Moor
  10. Winter for the Adept
  11. The Apocalypse Element
  12. The Fires of Vulcan
  13. The Shadow of the Scourge
  14. The Holy Terror
  15. The Mutant Phase
  16. Storm Warning
  17. Sword of Orion
  18. The Stones of Venice
  19. Minuet in Hell
  20. Loups-Garoux
  21. Dust Breeding
  22. Bloodtide
  23. Project: Twilight
  24. The Eye of the Scorpion
  25. Colditz
  26. Primeval
  27. The One Doctor
  28. Invaders from Mars
  29. The Chimes of Midnight
  30. Seasons of Fear
  31. Embrace the Darkness
  32. The Time of the Daleks
  33. Neverland
  34. Spare Parts
  35. ...ish
  36. The Rapture
  37. The Sandman
  38. The Church and the Crown
  39. Bang-Bang-a-Boom!
  40. Jubilee
  41. Nekromanteia
  42. The Dark Flame
  43. Doctor Who and the Pirates
  44. Creatures of Beauty
  45. Project: Lazarus
  46. Flip-Flop
  47. Omega
  48. Davros
  49. Master
  50. Zagreus

Special Releases:

UNIT: Dominion

The Davros Mission

Fourth Doctor Adventures:

1.01 Destination: Nerva

1.02 The Renaissance Man

1.03 The Wrath of the Iceni

1.04 Energy of the Daleks

1.05 Trail of the White Worm

1.06 The Oseidon Adventure

Eighth Doctor Adventures:

1.1 Blood of the Daleks, Part 1

1.2 Blood of the Daleks, Part 2

1.3 Horror of Glam Rock

1.4 Immortal Beloved

1.5 Phobos

1.6 No More Lies

1.7 Human Resources, Part 1

1.8 Human Resources, Part 2

The Lost Stories:

1.01 The Nightmare Fair

1.02 Mission to Magnus

1.03 Leviathan

1.04 The Hollows of Time

1.05 Paradise 5

1.06 Point of Entry

1.07 The Song of Megaptera

1.08 The Macros

Box 1. The Fourth Doctor Box Set

The Companion Chronicles:

2.1 Mother Russia

2.2 Helicon Prime

2.3 Old Soldiers

2.4 The Catalyst

Destiny of the Doctor:

  1. Hunters of Earth
  2. Shadow of Death
  3. Vengeance of the Stones
  4. Babblesphere
  5. Smoke and Mirrors
  6. Trouble in Paradise
  7. Shockwave
  8. Enemy Aliens
  9. Night of the Whisper
  10. Death's Deal
  11. The Time Machine

Short Trips:

Volume 1

Volume 2

The Stageplays:

  1. The Ultimate Adventure
  2. Seven Keys to Doomsday
  3. The Curse of the Daleks

Bernice Summerfield:

Box 2. Road Trip

Box 3. Legion

Box 4. New Frontiers

Box 5. Missing Persons

Graceless:

Series 1

Series 2

Series 3

Dalek Empire:

  1. Invasion of the Daleks
  2. The Human Factor
  3. "Death to the Daleks!"
  4. Project Infinity
  5. Dalek War: Chapter One
  6. Dalek War: Chapter Two
  7. Dalek War: Chapter Three
  8. Dalek War: Chapter Four

Jago & Litefoot:

Series 1

Series 2

Series 3

Series 4

Series 5

Counter-Measures:

Series 1

Series 2

Iris Wildthyme:

2.1 The Sound of Fear

2.2 The Land of Wonder

2.3 The Two Irises

2.4 The Panda Invasion

2.5 The Claws of Santa

Series 3

Series 4

UNIT:

  1. Time Heals
  2. Snake Head
  3. The Longest Night
  4. The Wasting

I, Davros:

  1. Innocence
  2. Purity
  3. Corruption
  4. Guilt

Cyberman:

1.1 Scorpius

1.2 Fear

1.3 Conversion

1.4 Telos

2.0 Cyberman 2

Charlotte Pollard:

Series 1

 

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 450 NPR Tiny Desk Concerts: Intimate Performances from The Pixies, Adele, Wilco, Yo-Yo Ma & Many More

In times past, happening upon just the right radio station, record store, or tape trading community were some of the few serendipitous ways of discovering new music. And in those days, one faithful curator of innovative new sounds, BBC DJ John Peel, never disappointed. Because of a law limiting the amount of recorded music radio could play, his name became synonymous with the hundreds of intimate performances punk, new wave, reggae, and other bands recorded live in his studio. While the “Peel Sessions” will forever live in legend (stream some here), the man himself passed away in 2004, and the musical landscape he helped create has changed irrevocably.

And yet, Peel’s animating spirit lives on, most especially in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, live in-studio performances recorded “at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.” Since 2008, Boilen has invited established and up-and-coming artists alike to his desk, capturing loose, unguarded, stripped-down, performances that sound like they’re happening in your living room.


Guitarists unplug, drummers trade their sticks for brushes, and we not only get to listen to old and new favorites; we get to watch them---like the Pixies at the top—up close as well. This performance, from 2014, garnered “the largest crowd we’d ever assembled for a Tiny Desk Concert,” writes Boilen, and featured newest member Paz Lenchantin trading her bass for violin.

Where the Pixies usually fill arenas with their eerily-quiet-to-deafeningly-loud songs, the group further up, Dirty Dozen Band, can easily fill public squares, football fields, and parade routes without stacks of overdriven amps. Hearing them explode in Boilen’s office with their rambunctious funk is a real treat, as is the larger-than-life voice of Adele, above, scaled down to college coffeehouse levels of closeness.

Though Tiny Desk Concerts often showcase pop, hip-hop, folk, country, and indie stars—like Wilco, below—and even classical stars like Yo-Yo Ma, above, it just as often introduces us to musicians we’ve never heard, or seen, before, and gives us the chance to get to know them without the usual trappings of marketing and boilerplate PR, or loud, crowded clubs with bad acoustics and no visibility.

The current homepage features a handful of incredibly talented musicians you’re unlikely to run across in most major venues. At least for now. Had he lived to see Tiny Desk Concerts, and its preservation of a radio curatorial tradition, John Peel, I think, would have been proud. See more performances from The National, Susan Vega, Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens, Steve Earle, and many, many more---450 concerts in all---at NPR Music on Youtube.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Tell a Good Story, as Explained by George Saunders, Ira Glass, Ken Burns, Scott Simon, Catherine Burns & Others

All of us instinctively respond to stories. This has both positive and negative effects, but if we don't understand it about ourselves, we've won't fully understand why people believe what they believe and do what they do. Even given the deep human attachment to narrative, can we clearly explain what a story is, or how to tell one? Acclaimed author George Saunders has given the subject a great deal of thought, some of which he lets us in on in the short film above, which Josh Jones previously wrote about here on Open Culture. "A good story," he tells us, says "at many different levels, 'We're both human beings. We're in this crazy situation called life that we don't really understand. Can we put our heads together and confer about it at a very high, non-bullshitty level?'"

At this point in his career, Saunders has tried out that approach to story using numerous different techniques and in a variety of different contexts, most recently in his new novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which takes place in the aftermath of the assassination of the titular sixteenth President of the United States. Few living creators understand the appeal of American history as a trove of story material better than Ken Burns, author of long-form documentaries like JazzBaseball, and The Civil War, who finds that its "good guys have serious flaws and the villains are very compelling."


And though he ostensibly works with only the facts, he acknowledges that "all story is manipulation," some of it desirable manipulation and some of it not so much, with the challenge of telling the difference falling to the storyteller himself.

"The common story," Burns says, "is 'one plus one equals two.' We get it. But all stories — the real, genuine stories — are about one and one equaling three." Where his mathematical formula for storytelling emphasizes the importance of the unexpected, the one offered by Andrew Stanton, director of Pixar films like Finding NemoWALL-E, and John Carter, emphasizes the importance of a "well-organized absence of information." In the TED Talk just above  (which opens with a potentially NSFW joke), he suggests always giving the audience "two plus two" instead of four, encouraging the audience to do the satisfying work of putting the details of the story together themselves while never letting them realize they're doing any work at all.

"Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty," said the playwright William Archer. Stanton quotes it in his talk, and the notion also seems to underlie the views on storytelling held by This American Life creator Ira Glass. In the interview above, he describes the process of telling a story as recounting a sequence of actions, of course, but also continually throwing out questions and answering them all along the way, oscillating between actions in the story and moments of reflection on those actions which cast a little light on their meaning — a form surely familiar to anyone who's heard so much as a segment of his radio show. And how do you become as skilled as he and his team at telling stories? Do what he did: tell a huge number of them, telling and telling and telling until you develop the killer instinct to mercilessly separate the truly compelling ones from the rest.

Glass illustrates the benefits of his lessons by playing some tape of a news report he produced early in his career, highlighting all the ways in which he failed to tell its story properly. He turned out to be cut out for something slightly different than straight-up reporting, a job of which reporters like Scott Simon of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition have made an art. Simon takes his storytelling process apart in three and a half minutes in the video just above: beyond providing such essentials as a strong beginning, vivid details, and a point listeners can take away, he says, you've also got to consider the way you deliver the whole package. Ideally, you'll tell your story in "short, breathable sections," which creates an overall rhythm for the audience to follow, whether they're sitting on the barstool beside you or tuned in on the other side of the world.

What else does a good story need? Conflict. Tension. The feeling of "seeing two opposing forces collide." Honesty. Grace. The ring of truth. All these qualities and more come up in the Atlantic's "Big Question" video above, which asks a variety of notables to name the most important element of a good story. Responders include House of Cards writer and producer Beau Willimon, The Moth artistic director Catherine Burns, PBS president Paula Kerger, and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Since humans have told stories since we first began, as Saunders put it, conferring about this crazy situation called life, all manner of storytelling rules, tips, and tricks have come and gone, but the core principles have remained the same. As to whether we now understand life any better... well, isn't that one of those unanswered questions that keeps us on the edge of our seats?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Download 1,500+ Episodes of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, Where Famous Guests Name the Songs They Can’t Live Without (1942 to the Present)

Introvert, bookworm, homebody… labels I have gladly worn throughout my life. I believe in civic engagement on principle, but there have been many times in the past few months, indeed in life, when I’ve wanted to strand myself on one of those proverbial desert islands, surrounded by my favorite books and records.

But surely one needn’t be an introvert to appreciate occasional solitude and time well spent with one’s favorite writing and music? Not in the least. As the BBC’s Desert Island Discs has shown us, many of the most outgoing celebrities, known for their constant presence in the spotlight, have cultivated their own inner castaway.


Or at least many have been happy to share what they would listen to and read on a theoretical voyage into solitude. Since 1942, Desert Island Discs has asked its famous guests to name eight recordings (not strictly limited to music), one book, and one luxury item that they couldn’t live without if left alone. One guest, Louis Armstrong, confessed himself married to the city and had such a long and successful career as a trumpet player, bandleader, composer, singer, actor, and all-around personality that it’s hard to imagine he ever had any time to himself.

Nevertheless, Armstrong possessed a key quality necessary for peaceful time alone: he was a man who enjoyed his own company. In his 1968 appearance on the show, Armstrong told the show’s creator and longtime host Roy Plomley that one favorite track he couldn’t live without was his own recording of “Blueberry Hill.” His luxury item? His trumpet of course. And book? His own autobiography.

Not all the show’s guests have been as intensely self-focused in their answers. Keith Richards, who owes his status, said host Kirsty Young, to a “single-minded dedication to the triumvirate pursuits of sex and drugs and rock and roll,” chose many of his heroes, like Chuck Berry and Etta James. And as a luxury item, he opted not for a musical instrument or an inducement to pleasure, but for a very practical machete.

The long-running Desert Island Discs owes its popularity not simply to famous people making lists, however; that premise has served throughout its 75 years as scaffolding for some of the most fascinating and intimate conversations with artists, actors, politicians, and other notables.

In Kirsty Young’s 2016 interview with Tom Hanks, the affable actor—whose list included Dean Martin, Dusty Springfield, Talking Heads and a Hermes 3000 manual typewriter—broke down in tears while telling the painful story of his lonely childhood. “What have you done to me?” he said to Young, then told her he was trying to express “the vocabulary of loneliness.” In 2014, Young pronounced artist and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen—a devotee of Prince, Michael Jackson, and Kate Bush—one of her all time favorite interviewees for his candid, engaging discussion of art as his “salvation.”

But of course, no popular entertainment succeeds without its controversies, and Desert Island Discs has had plenty of those moments as well. Sometimes scandalous moments—at least for the show’s host—have popped up in the midst of otherwise excellent interviews. In 2009, Morrissey sat down with Young for an interview that included “plenty of positive statements,” writes NME, including “his relative ease with life.” Yet she was shocked to hear him defend suicide as “honourable… an act of great control.” Whether he meant it or not, true fans of the singer would not have raised an eyebrow.

Another exchange hardly out of character for the interviewee occurred during a much less engaging conversation. In 1989, Lady Mosley, aristocratic wife of British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley, proclaimed her admiration for Hitler and denied the Holocaust. Host Sue Lawley seemed “stunned,” the BBC notes, and accused Mosley of “rewriting history.” It’s hard to know what else the host expected from a woman The Guardian called "unrepentant" and “Hitler’s angel” upon her death in 2003.

Such unpleasant interviews as Mosley’s are few and far between in the massive archive of Desert Island Discs episodes on the BBC’s website, which spans the years 1956-2011, with many more recent episodes on the site as well, like this conversation with Bruce Springsteen. Other notable interviews come from Brian Eno in 1991, Yoko Ono in 2007, Maya Angelou in 1987, and Judi Dench just last year. Want to know their picks? You’ll have to listen to the episodes--all of which you can download--to find out.

All of the show's subjects are accomplished people, but not all of them have been celebrities. The BBC has chosen as one of its most moving interviews a 2016 conversation with David Nott, who has volunteered as a surgeon on battlefields around the world since 1993. Nott's harrowing stories of over twenty years of warzone trauma will likely have you convinced that among the show’s hundreds of guests, he may be most in need of that island getaway.

Given Desert Island Discs' constraints of eight recordings, one book, and one luxury item, what would you, castaway readers, take with you, and why? Please tell us in the comments below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Introduction to the Life & Thought of Hannah Arendt: Presented by the BBC Radio’s In Our Time

Unsettling historical parallels between the newly-developing world order and the terrors that scourged Europe in the 1930s and 40s now seem undeniable to most informed observers of contemporary geopolitics. Europeans have their own political crises to weather, but all eyes currently seem trained on the military behemoth that is my own country. “These are not normal times,” admits Jane Chong at Lawfare. Though she critiques Nazi comparisons as needlessly alarmist, she "sees no reason for optimism." While references to history's greatest villain abound, we’ve also seen Australian scientist Alan Finkel compare the U.S. leader to Joseph Stalin for the suppression and censorship of environmental data.

The devastation Hitler and Stalin visited upon Western and Eastern Europe can hardly be overstated—and we still find it nearly impossible to comprehend. But not soon after the end of World War II, one of the 20th century’s most probing analysts of political thought attempted to do just that.


Hannah Arendt’s 1951 The Origins of Totalitarianism remains one of “several seminal works on tyranny and oppression that have recently gained popularity among readers,” notes Alison Griswold at Quartz. And Arendt’s 1963 classic Eichmann in Jerusalem also continues to inform the moment, offering a “sobering reflection,” writes Maria Popova, on what Arendt called "the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”

Arendt’s renewed relevance recently prompted Melvyn Bragg, host of the excellent BBC Radio program In Our Time, to bring three guest philosophy professors—Robert Eaglestone, Frisbee Sheffield, and Lyndsey Stonebridgeon air to discuss her ideas and influence. Bragg begins with a brief outline of Arendt’s biography, then turns to Sheffield, a lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge, for elaboration. They immediately address one of the most controversial aspects of Arendt’s young life, her affair with her mentor, Martin Heidegger, who joined the Nazi party and remained a true believer in its ideology.

But the conversation quickly moves on from there to encompass Arendt’s multi-dimensional thought. “There’s a great range to her writings,” says Sheffield. A trained classicist, Arendt wrote her dissertation on the idea of love in St. Augustine. Her most philosophical work, The Human Condition, drew on classical concepts to rank human activity into a hierarchy of labor, work, and action. She “wrote on a great range of topics,” Sheffield notes, though “there is a consistent interest in politics and political themes throughout her work.”

Yet Arendt rejected the label of political philosopher and is herself “hard to pin down” politically. Her 1963 book On Revolution, critiqued leftist and Marxist thought and praised the American Revolution for its constitutionalism. She was skeptical of the notion of universal human rights, and her essay On Violence made the argument that violence appears only in the absence of political power, not its ascendency. As we learn from listening to Bragg’s assembled panel of guests, Arendt consistently emphasized two classical concepts: the value of a civic and political order and the importance of the “life of the mind,” also the title of a two-volume work published posthumously in 1978.

In Our Time's short, lively conversation provides an excellent introduction to Arendt’s life and work. To dive more deeply into the Arendt corpus, visit Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, browse the Library of Congress’s Hannah Arendt Papers, and read Lyndsey Stonebridge’s short online essay “Hannah Arendt’s Refugee History.” You'll also find an extensive reading list of primary and secondary sources at the In Our Time BBC page.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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