KWUR to air ’40s style radio theater

| Contributing Reporter

Next semester, KWUR will feature three radio theater serials written, performed, edited, produced and scored by Washington University students in an ambitious throwback to popular 1940s radio programs.

The project is unique because the medium of radio theater or “movies for the mind,” as audiotheater.com calls it, has been practically lost since the height of its popularity in the 1940s. KWUR is among a small number of college radio stations and other groups worldwide that plan to bring it back.

Shows titled “Sky Pirates,” “Simon Colt” and “The Human Chord,” along with miscellaneous sketches and improvisation, will air on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. beginning next semester on the KWUR show Theater of the Air.

The shows are meant to appeal to “anyone with half an imagination,” according to senior and KWUR member Alex Jensen. But, because radio theater has never been attempted at the University, the members of Theater of the Air are not entirely sure how students will receive the show.

That uncertainty coupled with the work involved means that the endeavor carries a great deal of risk, according to junior David Rheinstrom, the producer of all three shows and lead writer of “Sky Pirates.”

“If we’re going to fail, we’re going to fail huge. If I’m going to die, I’m going to die on fire,” Rheinstrom said. “This project is very impressive, because we’re writing three first seasons of three different shows and using campus-grown talent to write and staff our shows.”

However, the whole show is practically “a gamble,” Rheinstrom said.

According to Jensen, the idea first came to KWUR as the group was working on a past radio show.

“It started off as something small, cute and fun, and we took it to the next level and the level after that until we had this huge backlog of great plays,” he said.

The shows toy with the conventions of classic serial drama. Rheinstrom described “Simon Colt” as “an old-fashioned occult western, with a cowboy that fights zombies and deals with banshees in the wild spaces of the Americas.”

“‘The Human Chord’ is a funky superhero action comedy about a superhero who uses funk to fight crime in the city of Harmonious,” Rheinstrom said.

According to sophomore Tim Lemieux, “Sky Pirates” is “like a crappy movie from the ’30s” with roots in ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ and ‘Freakazoid.’”

Despite the uncertainty of the show’s reception, the group is aiming for top-notch production quality.

Senior Robert Panico is writing and conducting the scores for the shows, as opposed to using canned music.

“It’s been demanding because we’re trying to avoid synthetic [music]. We have string players from all over campus,” Panico said.

KWUR’s new recording space in the Danforth University Center (DUC) has served as a great contribution to the group’s production quality.

“We have this beautiful resource in the recording studio in the DUC,” Rheinstrom said.

According to KWUR, the only easy aspect of planning Theater of the Air is actually paying for the show. One of radio theater’s biggest advantages is that it is cheap.

“The beauty of it is, you don’t need expensive sets to create zeppelins from 1933,” junior KWUR member Evan Kuhn said.

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