The organ plays a dramatic introduction, followed by a knock at the door and the sound of footsteps. The announcer sets the scene: “The South of France in 1900, a beautiful playground bordered by the bluest of blue seas, and populated with an extraordinary cross section of cosmopolitan Europe—rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.”
All ears in the audience are perked, awaiting Dr. Watson’s next move in the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Case of the Double Zero.
The space is dark, with a single spotlight shining on a 1930s-era radio, perched on a pedestal. It’s a sharp contrast to the afternoon sunshine and activity going on outside, but that’s the way the Radio Clubbers like it.
Turns out listening to old, crackly radio shows in a dimly lit room is a great stress reliever.
The idea started late last year, when theater tech teacher James Meehan noticed that students seemed especially tense around finals.
“I figured I would offer up a place to decompress, and kids could listen—or not,” he says.
Several Freshman girls took him up on it. And now, in its second year, they have the routine down: bring made-from-scratch cookies from home, sip mugs of tea, and sprawl out on the theater floor while listening to tales of intrigue.
“The best part of the experience is the general vibe of being in a dark theater and relaxing while listening to the show,” says Ninth Grader Claire Kenney, a self-declared theater nerd and a recent Vintage Radio Club first timer.
Meehan has experimented with different styles of radio—spy stories, mysteries, science fiction, and comedy. He often asks the students what they would like to hear the following week, but the selection is a surprise.
One of the original participants, Sofie Rossman, now a Sophomore, especially likes the Sherlock Holmes episodes. “We have listened to Sherlock Holmes a few times now, and I always really enjoy it. It’s cool to see the similarities between the TV show and the radio show.”
Every episode, regardless of genre, features that scratchy, time-worn sound of radio’s Golden Age, along with the dramatic lilting accents of the day. Rich dialog and sound effects—like cymbals and violins—help carry the stories.
Before each show, Meehan reminds students that the plays are from a different era, so some of the phrases may not be at the level of social awareness and political correctness that would be expected today. In addition, many shows are sponsored by cigarette or alcohol companies, but he explains that they are historical documents and so should stand unedited.
“The vintage radio style is cool, because it is what my grandparents had,” says Sophomore Natalie Rumsfeld.
“The best part to me is being able to step away from today’s reality of electronics, and the bright gleam in our faces most days,” says Audrey Gordon, Ninth Grade. “It was refreshing to lie on the floor, eat, talk to friends, and listen to the story. It’s an amazing thing, how a radio show can bring so many people near, whether they have met or not, to listen.”
Meehan says most of the Radio Club students have a connection to the Theater Department but emphasizes that all are welcome. Gordon has acted in productions such as Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and Babes in the Woods. Rumsfeld specializes in theater tech, and Rossman is the stage manager for the upcoming production of Our Town. Kenney has two roles in that show.
“Being with some of my closest friends and also just being in the theater environment, Vintage Radio Club is a really nice way to end the week,” Rossman says.
Vintage Radio Club meets each Friday at 1:00 p.m. in the Basement Theatre. All are welcome.
Here is a sample of the 30-minute shows played:
- Dimension X: Outer Limit
- New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Tankerville Club Scandal
- Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Martin White Sees Dead Men
- New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Case of the Double Zero