When I was younger my father used to buy the family sets of radio dramas on cassette tape. I think a lot of these programs had just fallen into public domain and you could find nearly complete collections at your local bookstore. (This is to say nothing of archive.org, but that's another story) The Shadow, Suspense, Sherlock Holmes, I was introduced to all these radio dramas at a young age. My family would gather around the fireplace and pop them in the stereo or listen to them on long car trips. The Arnheim essay immediately reminded me of this time in my life. As someone who had grown up with an overabundance of television and radio simply as a means to listen to the Top 40, talk radio or baseball games, it was both frustrating and intriguing when I encountered tales constructed solely for the ear.
Arnheim raises the point that when we listen to the live broadcast of a real life event we often feel left out. There is a “happier audience” somewhere out there that isn't us. That we feel we are being led through the events as if by a seeing-eye dog. It's funny that I've never really thought about how true this is. But as a child when I was more or less forced into a situation where I was exposed to radio dramas, I slowly came to understand what made them so unique and special. I think I was most compelled by the series Suspense with it's Twilight Zone-esque mysterious story of the week. I never failed to be drawn in completely to the story with their expert crafting of sound and dialogue. This is the type of show that Arnheim says needs to visual accompaniment, because it drops you right in the middle of a world it has expertly constructed for you.
The things Arnheim says about news and music are also quite interesting. As for the news, he draws a line in the sand between say, talk radio and programming like This American Life. The talk radio show is done for hours at a time on a daily basis and probably for that reason has an “off the cuff” feel to it. You hear multiple announcers and you imagine the room they're sitting in. You can hear their chairs and their body movements. These are all things Arnheim says should be avoided. However with a well-produced radio-journalism show like This American Life you get a much more accomplished stab at the form. Pieces are expertly recorded so that you experience just the voice of the narrator or other important sounds.
So I would have to say I agree for the most part with Arnheim's characterization of “good” wireless broadcasting. It should be timeless, deliberate, and executed with a certain amount of clarity in order to paint a special picture which can only be enjoyed by the ear.