Shhhhhh--The Kids Are Putting On an
Old-Time Radio Show
The Saturday workshops let children -- as well as their parents and
grandparents -- produce audio plays.
By BRENDA REES, Special to The Times
Saturday mornings, Los Angeles kids can leave behind their everyday
personas, and for two hours be
magically transformed into cowboys, English sleuths, crusaders,
hard-boiled detectives, subterranean creatures or evil blob aliens.
But these kids aren't assuming new identities via the Internet or
performing in films or on stage. They are discovering theatrical
ambitions the old-fashioned way--using spoken words and sound effects to
create a new version of an old genre: dramatic radio plays.
Sponsored by the Museum of Television & Radio, "Re-Creating
Radio" is an ongoing series of Saturday-morning
workshops that introduce and reinvent the art of radio production for
new generations of kids who didn't grow up listening to the adventures
of the Lone Ranger or the antics of Little Orphan Annie.
"Re-Creating Radio" started more than four years ago and came
from similar workshops held at New York's Museum of Television &
Radio. Participants--not only kids, but also parents and
grandparents--are offered hands-on experience putting together a real
"We structure the workshops like an actual radio production,"
says Tony Palermo, director of the sessions. He also wrote the scripts
(based on vintage radio shows) and composed the music for the seven
rotating stories. "We audition kids with a cold reading and then
cast the show. Later, there's a sound-effect training, a cue rehearsal
and then a 'live' broadcast. This is pretty much how radio programs were
While today's kids might never have sat down to listen to a radio play,
they do come to the workshops already familiar with the idea of radio
shows, which has surprised many involved in the program. Palermo credits
animated programs and books on tape with keeping kids in touch with
"Kids have no trouble with the concept of playing make-believe with
voices," says Carla Fantozzi,
deputy director for the museum. "You can be whatever you want to
be--it doesn't matter what you look like, but you have to use your voice
to communicate character and emotion."
After casting and before rehearsal, Palermo shows the participants a
short video clip of how performers years ago put on a radio program. A
startling array of voices comes out of only four performers' mouths, and
the sound-effects men are shown smoothly maneuvering around Rube
Goldberg-type noise machines, later crinkling paper and banging on huge
sheets of metal.
The video gets kids enthusiastic and ready for the studio.
New Scripts Have More Roles for Kids
Palermo says his scripts only differ in
one way from originals--they have more characters and action, which
means more kid involvement. The scripts--which range from science
fiction and horror to soap opera and superhero adventures--all contain
some slang dialogue that reflects the period.
For example, the script for "Rick Lowell, Private Eye"
contains a glossary of phrases such as "high roller" (frequent
gambler who uses large sums of money), "built like an icebox"
(description of a large man), "blackjack" (a short,
leather-covered club used by criminals) and "keyhole peeper"
(a private detective).
Some of the sound-effects equipment--such as doorbells, buzzers and old
telephone dials--has been donated by NBC in New York and locally by
Cliff Thorsness, a sound-effects creator for CBS radio from 1938 to
Palermo says that Thorsness has visited the museum's workshops and has
offered sound-effects advice as well as stories about the glory days of
radio. "We have to realize that these sound-effect fellows really
were artists," Palermo says. "Sound effects are not just an
instrument or machine, it was how people manipulated them to create a
certain unique noise."
Once in the studio, voice performers are instructed on how to speak into
microphones while the sound-effects team practices footsteps, fight
scenes and train engine noises. The cue rehearsal brings everyone
together. Palermo gives last-minute instructions. Then it's show time.
Music up. Scripts are in position. Palermo points to the announcer and
the play is underway. The show takes about 20 minutes to perform. When
the recording is done, the company members hear a playback of their
work. A week later, each participant receives a cassette copy of the
show in the mail.
Gregg Heacock has been bringing his son Graham to workshops for the past
two years. As an English teacher at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles,
Heacock is impressed that kids attending the workshops are picking up
valuable reading techniques.
"They are really learning how to read on three levels," he
explains. "They learn how to decode the words, visualize what is
being written and then understand the subtext or the motivation. It's a
wonderful learning experience."
* "Re-Creating Radio" workshops
are held Saturday mornings, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., at the Museum of
Television & Radio, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. Workshops
are for children ages 9 to 14. Cost of the workshop is $5 a person or
$125 for groups up to 20. Reservations are required. The radio studio is
also available for private parties. For more information and
reservations, call (310) 786-1014. Upcoming workshops include: Saturday:
"Radio Ranger"; June 10: "Rick Lowell, Private Eye (Part
3)"; June 17: "Grim Scary Tales."