When This American Life launched its groundbreaking show Serial in 2015, they chiseled into the medium all sorts of legitimacy and validation as both a storytelling and journalistic medium. Since then, we’ve watched the floodgates open and podcasters compete to fill the feeds with spoken word, interviews, music, theatre, book readings and inspired messages on every topic imaginable, from news to horror fiction to hip hop culture.
Audio drama revival
It is indeed the audio drama revival moment, and it’s come almost exactly 100 years after WGY Radio in New York started weekly broadcasts of a troupe of actors standing around a microphone delivering scripted fiction to the invisible audiences of 1920s America. Both then and now, technological advances have put the medium into the spotlight, allowing listeners to experience theatre from their comfort of their homes – or even their cars.
But we’re also noticing the medium become treated with more seriousness than a facile entertainment tool. True Crime consistently appears to be among the most popular of the emerging networks within the podcasting world. This American Life had Serial and S-Town. Gimlet has Crimetown. Wondery has Dirty John. These are productions that have made the names of their networks.
True crime podcasting
By obvious intention and loyalty to the emerging tropes, South African offering Alibi is rooted squarely in true crime. As a radio show seeking to educate listeners about real-life events, Alibi addresses the lingering ethical inequality brought about by South Africa’s policy of apartheid. Twenty-five years after the change in government, South Africans still live knee-to-neck-deep in this imbalance. The show was a pioneering take on the type of investigative journalism constantly under threat by the silencing of dissenters – by just the types of characters the listener meets over the course of the 8-episode series.
Listen to Alibi Season 1 Episode 1
Publishing the full season as both a podcast and a terrestrial radio series enabled this message to be delivered to both local South African listeners and the world. The twin explosions of media consumption and mobility have allowed an unprecedented number of journalists and audio drama revivalists to broadcast their message to a niche audience. The strength and power of Alibi’s in-depth research and timely message was brought to light when the show won the regional Vodacom Journalist of the Year award in 2017 in the category Radio Feature. As a story primarily concerned with crime and racism, the South African show creators have pushed their advantage and demonstrated that precise type of Promethean ingenuity that doesn’t stay hidden from the world for very long.