Oct. 30 is ‘Audio Drama Day’; Hear ‘The Couple Next Door’

Alan Bunce, left, and Peg Lynch, star in “The Couple Next Door,” Fridays, at 10 p.m., and Saturdays at 1 a.m. on WHAV.

Almost 80 years after the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast on Oct. 30, 1938, new generations of listeners and producers celebrate Oct. 30 as “Audio Drama Day.”

The holiday honors old-time radio of the past, and modern audio drama produced today. WHAV participates with Friday’s scheduled broadcast of “The Couple Next Door,” starring Peg Lynch, who recently passed away at age 98, at 10 p.m. It repeats 1 a.m., Saturday.

In 1938, “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” shared an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel as a fearsome and innovative Halloween treat. Listeners heard a fictionalized newscast of aliens invading the little town of Grover’s Mill, N.J. A debate continues: did Mercury’s team (prodigy Orson Welles, producer John Houseman and writer Howard Koch) expect panic? Did listeners really fear Martians, or a more down-to-earth threat, like a Nazi invasion force? WHAV rebroadcasts the War of the Worlds, Saturday, at 10 p.m., with an encore performance three hours later at 1 a.m.

Halloween continues to be the best time to enjoy scary audio dramas, explains Fred Greenhalgh, one of the producers on “Locke and Key,” released by Audible.com Oct. 5. “It’s a time of year when people are open to experiencing the macabre,” Greenhalgh says. “No medium scares better than audio. There’s something primal about it.”

“War of the Worlds” is remembered on Halloween, but only one part of the unfolding audio drama story. Modern audio drama began to evolve in the 1970s. While CBS’ traditional Radio Mystery Theater remained popular, new work resonated with a counterculture audience: zany Firesign Theatre and ZBS’s experimental “Ruby” series aired on progressive rock radio. Later, a “Star Wars” adaptation won new fans to National Public Radio (NPR), along with the terrifying “Nightfall,” created by CBC Radio.

A dedicated audience has also followed Jim French Productions’ syndicated detective hero, Harry Niles, and the “Imagination Theatre” anthology, over three decades. Today, a new series of “Suspense” is being produced in Hollywood by Blue Hours Productions. New episodes air Monday night at 10 on WHAV with a repeat three hours later at 1 a.m.

“Modern audio drama is a diverse movement,” says Sibby Wieland of Sound Stages Radio. “You’ve got shows that recreate the style of network radio in the 1940s, like ‘The Red Panda’ and ‘The Thrilling Adventure Hour,’ but also cutting edge humor and science fiction like ‘Hadron Gospel Hour.’ Entire fictional worlds exist in the zombie adventure ‘We’re Alive’ and ‘Our Fair City,’”

Long after audio drama’s first “golden age,” anthologies like the Canadian broadcast “The Sonic Society” and podcast “Radio Drama Revival,” and shows on BBC’s Radio 4 still reach millions of listeners. The Boston-based Post-Meridian Radio Players, London’s Wireless Theatre, Atlanta Radio Theatre and Oregon’s Willamette Radio Workshop sell out live performances of horror audio drama. Why?

“Audio presents a unique and inexpensive medium, designed for a world on the go,” explains Monique Boudreau, of Buffalo’s nonprofit Aural Stage Studios, which, like the Memphis-based Chatterbox Theatre, produces audio drama to both entertain and build their local communities.