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Longest Running Soap Opera Celebrates 60 Years on Radio

Although in the United States we are often hard-pressed to find examples of radio drama, over in the U.K. radio listeners have been tuning in to hear “The Archers” for 60 years.

The soap opera, which began in January 1951 currently airs 15-minute episodes 6 days a week and is now presumed to be the world’s longest running soap opera. According to a piece yesterday, although “The Archers” revolves around the seemingly unglamorous lives of people living in rural England, the program is one of the most popular shows on radio:

“‘The Archers,’ has for six decades focused on mostly uneventful lives in an English farming community. Its plots often center on tractor parts, crop rotation and hay thefts. And it’s on the radio.

Despite the unglamorous setting and sedate pace, 5 million listeners a week in Britain – and others around the world over the Internet – follow the everyday travails of the landowning Archers, the working-class Grundys and their neighbors in the fictional village of Ambridge: Does that cow have mastitis? How’s lambing season going? And how is octogenarian Peggy Archer coming along with her computer lessons?”

The show actually began in the 1950s with an educational mission. According to the Archers’ website, “In Whit Week 1950, the BBC’s Midlands Home Service broadcast five pilot episodes of a new, experimental drama series: The Archers. The producer Godfrey Baseley had previously worked mainly on agricultural programmes. He hoped that farmers would listen for the stories, but along the way pick up messages that would help them feed a Britain still subject to food rationing.” Although the focus of the show shifted away from its original educational mission in 1972, tidbits of agricultural trivia can still be heard on the show, which as of today has aired more than 16,300 episodes.

No doubt the show is helping to keep listeners tuning in to BBC Radio 4, as the AP story points out that,
“The endurance of ‘The Archers’ is a sign of the success of radio in the age of the Internet and high definition TV. RAJAR, the body that monitors radio listenership, reported in October that more than 90 percent of the British population listened to the radio every week, a 2.3 percent increase from the year before.”
If you do your research, you can find a number of radio dramas over the U.S. airwaves as well, including a few on high school and college radio stations and some, like Seattle Radio Theatre, are even performed before a live audience. Are there any that are your favorites?

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