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CKVS Takes on Radio Thriller for Halloween

Shuswap Community Radio works with local theatre in nod to old time radio

Shuswap Community Radio/CKVS(FM), in the idyllically-named Salmon Arm, British Columbia, is working with the Shuswap Theatre for a performance of the 1947 radio thriller, “Take Me Out to the Graveyard,” Oct. 29, just in time for Halloween.

Radio World spoke with Station Manager Jeanette Clement about the production.

Radio World: Why is CKVS doing this? What are the expectations?
Jeanette Clement: The station received a C$48,000 grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada earlier this year to partner with area theatrical groups in order to recreate “Old Time Radio,” performed in front of a live audience. The purpose is to connect the radio station with other community groups in the area, increase volunteerism, and provide some insight to the general public on how radio plays were done in days gone by, in an entertaining, informative, interesting way. The expectations are increased community awareness of our station (we’re relatively new here in Salmon Arm), increased volunteerism, and increased programming. We are aiming to record five plays which will be aired at a later date, and in the process spark groups to produce further radio plays with their actors and writers. There are many creative people in the Shuswap and we’re hoping they’ll see community radio as another outlet for their talents.

“Take Me Out to the Graveyard” is the second play we’ll be recording within this grant. The first will be performed by Asparagus Theatre in nearby Armstrong, British Columbia, on Oct. 27 and 28. Asparagus is planning on presenting “Dracula.” The cast for that play is a bit larger.

RW: Has the station or engineer or producer done a dramatic production before? If not, have you consulted with anyone who has done such a production before?
Clement: Yes, we have done this before — the station produced “A Play on Words” by Lister Sinclair. This was performed as a radio play in front of a live audience in 2013, recorded and later aired. At that time we ran the microphones into a small mixer then out to a laptop. That method left us with everything on one track, which was not desirable, so we’re using a different method this time.

Our current recording engineer has never worked on a project like this before though, so it is a learning experience.

RW: Are there any considerations in taking on this production? It will involve many actors and consume quite a bit of station resources.
Clement: The grant allowed us to hire a part time recording engineer, as well as a coordinator to liaison with the theatre groups and help organize the events. Initially this didn’t add much work to the station’s day-to-day activities, but as the first plays are almost upon us, there’s a bit more activity here!

RW: What equipment will be used — consoles/mixers, mics? Any FX packages or will they all be Foley? Since it is being recorded, what will be the editing software (or are you going all out and doing it reel-to-reel)?
Clement: The play may be performed in the old style, but we’re going modern digital with our recording, so no reel-to-reels! Because we’re recording the event and the project is a visual of how radio plays were performed, we picked up a Zoom R16 digital multitrack mixer/recorder, a pair of Apex 451B condenser microphones for the actors, about 200 feet of mic cable and a set of Samson SR950 headphones.

The mics come with shockmounts and windscreens. We picked them up for our on-location kit and they seemed to work well, so we thought we’d try them with this grant. The price was also within our budget.

As a matter of interest, we also bought mic stands with round bottom bases because we felt the tripods might cause a tripping hazard for the actors as they stepped up and back. We didn’t bother with booms, although we do have some that we can use if we need to.

We use AKG K 44 headphones at the station, but they’ve been discontinued, so we went with Samson SR950.

While we initially thought we were only going to use three mics, we went with the Zoom R16 because it has eight XLR inputs, two of which have phantom power.

After meeting with the theatre tech, we’ll probably be going with more microphones as they want more options for Foley. It will be a bit of an experiment but instead of the three channels we initially planned for, we’ll be setting up seven or eight. The plan is to record everything flat on different channels and add anything we need in post-production.

For the house, we plan to run the lines straight through our recorder, then line out to the theatre’s sound system. Our next issue was how to record the audience without sending the sound of applause and coughs through the sound system. We decided to set up a small Zoom H2 and record the audience separately, then sync it in post.

The Zoom R16 came with Cubase LE, but we’ve decided against using it. We’re a small station, and because we teach our volunteers how to record and edit their own shows, we’ve picked Audacity as our editing software. It’s free for anyone to download, and relatively easy to teach someone to use.

One day it would be wonderful to do radio plays live. I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot from this project and this will help us plan for future programming. If we were to broadcast the play live right now, we’d line everything into our on location kit. This consists of a small Alesis USB mixer that’s run into a laptop. We use the free version of Mixlr to send the location program back to the station via the web. This is not the most ideal way of doing things as we do have an issue with things buffering and there’s a 4–15-second delay, but for now, the price is right.

RW: How many people are involved in the actual production — actors and tech personnel?
Clement: Fourteen of us are involved with this play: six actors, three technical, one producer, one director, one Foley and two radio station personnel.

RW: Does the station have a studio for such a production or is this going to be done elsewhere?
Clement: We do have the capability to record a play at our station — we have a pre/post production studio with basic equipment as well as our on-air studio, but part of the charm of this grant is to have our community come out and see how radio plays were performed. Our station is too small to house a crowd — we’re on the top floor of an old school building, so the group will be performing on the theatre group’s stage.