I have a secret. I am addicted to my XM satellite radio! Two years ago when I got a new car it came with a three month free trial and by the time the three months were up I was a happy new subscriber. Where else can you get such an array of listening choices? I can literally listen to classical music, Broadway shows, and “old time radio” 24/7. In fact the Broadway station has two shows that I would sit in my car in the garage to listen to if I didn’t need to drive somewhere. Talkback and Downstage Center are two programs that explore the “inner circle” of Broadway theater and are fascinating to hear. Of course there is the full spectrum of talk radio, weather and sports too.
One of my passions is old time radio. I think it is such a shame that we are not producing dramatic and comedic radio shows today. It is such a provocative stimulator of the creative mind. Next to reading I don’t think anything evokes audience “participation” quite like an enacted radio drama. There’s no director’s visual point of view so you’re free to imagine everything from the characters to the scenery to the costumes and the dramatic action.
I’m sure some of my enjoyment comes from nostalgic memories of my childhood. I used to love to go to work with my father on Saturdays and sit beside him in the radio control room while shows like Grand Central Station and Let’s Pretend were recorded before live audiences. Listening to Nila Mack talk her actors through the pre-show meetings was the highlight of my week. She was a truly great director.
This morning on my way to work I listened to The Campbell Playhouse. The Campbell Playhouse was the direct result of Orson Wells incredible rendition of War of the Worlds first broadcast on Mercury Theater on the Air in 1938 and inciting audiences to near frenzy. The Campbell Soup Company immediately signed Wells to a contract and the Campbell Playhouse became an hour long dramatic anthology of adapted theater classics produced by John Houseman and often starring Orson Wells. Can you ask for any better theater than that?
This morning I heard A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Now I am no stranger to A Christmas Carol having listened to it as a youngster, read it in novel form many times, appeared in it, seen it, watched my daughter perform it with ACT, and produced it myself as an adapted play for television, but this may be one of the finest renditions I have ever experienced. My imagination ran away with me this morning. I both feared Scrooge and feared for him. I cringed at the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future and conjured up their visions. I felt the cold of the season and the warmth of the characters. I danced with the Feziwigs and tasted the goose and when Ebenezer was redeemed I was ready to say with Tiny Tim, “God bless us everyone!
I invite you all to listen to good radio theater. It is an experience you’ll never forget.