A cliche states, “some things are so old that they become new again.” It could be the case that listeners of podcasts and audiobooks are helping to revive the leading form of entertainment before television — radio. While podcasts and audiobooks are transmitted through the internet and are played on gadgets like iPhones and other devices, the idea is pretty much the same.
Back in the 1920s and ’30s, people in the United States and worldwide tuned into their favorite programs on the radio. Much like later television programs, radio featured a variety of genres and scripted drama for different audiences. According to the Digital Public Library of America, the so-called Golden Age of Radio peaked during the Great Depression and World War II.
In those times, fans could tune into regular broadcasts of shows like the mysterious “Shadow,” featuring the voice of Orson Welles. Comic book characters like “Superman” were popular, and so were science fiction heroes like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, according to the Old Time Radio Catalog.
Since “Star Trek” first appeared in the public consciousness in 1966, the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy were not among the shows in Radio’s Golden Era. But, a few of the stars from the franchise, who were big fans of radio drama, joined forces in 1996 to launch their own company. Leonard Nimoy, who Trek fans know as the original Mr. Spock, and John de Lancie (the omnipotent Q from “The Next Generation”) created the firm “ALIEN VOICES.”
“After years of being associated with other people’s projects, we wanted to enter the next century at the helm of our own,” said Nimoy, as reported by the ALIEN VOICES Facebook page. “ALIEN VOICES gives us the chance to work with other artists who also want to branch out, yet still provide audiences with the quality they’ve come to expect from us.”
‘The Lost World’
“I was raised on the classics — Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others,” said de Lancie, according to the ALIEN VOICES Facebook page. “Now we can bring these to even wider audiences by means of new technologies and old friends. We at ALIEN VOICES feel that the dramatization should remain faithful to the original works. We are presenting Verne, Wells, and other giants of the science fiction genre as they, themselves, might have wished to be heard.”
During their time together, the two formed a relationship with Simon & Schuster’s audiobook division, according to the fan website Beyond Spock.
“Journey to the Center of the Earth” also featured “Star Trek: Voyager” actress Roxann Dawson, along with “Deep Space Nine” veterans Andrew Robinson and Armin Shimerman. Actor Robert Ellenstein, who fans may remember as the Federation president in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” joined the cast for “The Time Machine.” Many of the scripts from those shows are available for purchase here.
ALIEN VOICES would go on to produce their versions of other books, including “The First Men on the Moon,” “The Invisible Man,” and “The Lost World.” According to Beyond Spock, NPR and the SciFi (now known as the SyFy) Channel were interested in using some of the ALIEN VOICES works for broadcast. In 1999, Nimoy and de Lancie worked with students at the California Superintendents Convention to produce a 15-minute audio drama.
‘First Men in the Moon’
After four years of work, the company closed its doors. The reason seems to have been a difference in philosophy between Nimoy, de Lancie, and Simon & Schuster.
“The problem with ALIEN VOICES was we had four really terrific years,” de Lancie told the AMC TV Network blog (as reported by Beyond Spock). “And then it began to be about selling: Simon & Schuster wanted whatever 40,000 units sold a year. And what we wanted to do was create really well-produced shows and have a library so that people in the future will simply know to come to an ALIEN VOICES production that will always be good.”
“And they didn’t see it that way, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing? I’m going around peddling audiobooks! This is not what I want to do.’ I loved writing them and directing them and doing them live, but I just didn’t want to get involved anymore.”
The duo also appeared together on stage in a series of performances (in character) as Spock and Q. These shows, first “Spock vs. Q,” which was followed by “Spock vs. Q: The Sequel,” can be seen on YouTube.
So Old, It’s New Again
Even as they employed multiple “Star Trek” actors, Nimoy and de Lancie didn’t “go where no one has gone before” with any of their productions. It seems that the idea for bringing Trek stories into an audio-only format has finally come.
The same company that ALIEN VOICES disagreed with, Simon & Schuster, gave fans the audio drama “Star Trek: Picard: No Man’s Land” in February 2022. Written by “Picard” co-creator and producer Kirsten Beyer and comic book scribe Mike Johnson, “No Man’s Land” featured Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) on an adventure that took place after the end of “Picard” Season One.