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Soap and Noir: American Radio in Australia and Beyond

Susan Smulyan, Brown University

After World War II, Australian production companies bought scripts of U.S. soap operas and dramas, rewrote them lightly, recast them with Australian actors using “neutral accents,” produced and broadcast them in Australia and New Zealand, and then exported the recordings to other Commonwealth countries such as South Africa and Jamaica. U.S. soap operas, such as “Portia Faces Life” and “Dr. Paul,” as well as all other radio forms, including the noir city drama “Night Beat,” lived on long after drama had moved from American radio to television. A hybrid Australian-American cultural product found a global market. Based on archival research in the US and Australia, the paper aims to problematize the national and even nationalist frame of much radio history. Recent histories of radio, in both Australia and the US, stress the role of radio in constructing ‘imagined community’, but despite all the calls for a more transnational history, there is little hint that American radio, like American film, had a significant post- production history abroad. The paper examines the scripts, the sound, the political and cultural context, and the business arrangements that underlay this global radio production.

John F. Kennedy Institute