willamette radio workshop

Audio drama PDX: Curated nostalgia

In the first of two parts – and before a Tolkien birthday bash on Saturday – a look at the old-time radio roots of a modern media movement

For most of my life I’ve been chronologically out of step. I was born in 1965, and my favorite clothes were out of fashion by 1930, my favorite authors were all dead by 1945, and one of my favorite artistic mediums, audio drama, culturally peaked in about 1950 and was until recently virtually extinct.

As a kid in the isolation of small-town Alaska, I would stay up late to hear, via the hit-and-miss bouncing signals of AM, re-broadcasts of the radio dramas from the 1930s and 40s, shows like The Shadow and Inner Sanctum. For a while anyway in the ’70s there was also the five-a-night broadcast of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a project helmed by grizzled radio veterans that featured fun performances though generally mediocre scripts.

Promotional photograph from November 1930 for the CBS Radio series “The Detective Story Hour,” the program that introduced The Shadow to radio audiences. The character was initially played by James La Curto. Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the general hokiness of many of the shows, new and old, for reasons that were clearly thought peculiar to my friends and family I was hooked. How did they do so much with nothing more than a script, a few actors, and some carefully placed sound effects? (The answer, of course, is that the listener’s imagination does the work. As radio pioneer and general funny guy Stan Freberg once said, “the monitor of our head is limitless.”)


Just in time for those cold foggy nights, The Willamette Radio Workshop sent us their production of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” which the company premiered on Halloween night, naturally enough, part of its 10th anniversary all-Poe night.

The company includes Alyson Osborn, James Dineen, Sarah Rea, Bruce Miles and Sam A. Mowry, and music for the show was supplied by Galen Huckins and the Filmusik All Stars. Mowry’s distinctive baritone is at the center of this performance. Take a deep breath, click the link and you’re in Poe’s world!”Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…”

Willamette Radio Workshop’s “The Raven”

Oregon ArtsWatch is interested in hosting more audio theater productions. Just email us, if you have a project that might fit: barry@orartswatch.org.