Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An interview with Peter Church

Twitter is opening a up a new world for me. Recently, I came across a fellow named Peter Church. His website, Radio's Revenge is his gateway into some quality, homemade podcasts, many of them using old-time radio scripts.

He's from Canada, a place that seems to be swelling these days with people putting on their own radio productions. I thought that it is about time I spoke to some of these people up north and found out what's in the water up there (or should it be, "ice up there?") Regardless, Canada seems to be on the cutting edge of original dramatic programming, be it for fun or profit.

Peter has been kind enough to take time out of his schedule to clue us in on what's going on with his radio dramas and we get to read it first hand, from this actor's point of view.

OTR BUFFET: Thank you Peter for joining me and doing this interview. First of all, tell me about how you first got into OTR and some background on some of the shows that intrigued you.

Peter Church: Hi, Jimbo! My Dad always shared his love of classic films with me. I remember curling up with him as a 7 year old (back in the 80's) and watching re-runs of the original 'Lone Ranger' series on Sunday mornings. Even from the time before I could talk, we had a giant, plush rabbit named 'Harvey'. Perhaps not coincidentally, when I was a teenager it was his sharing the film 'Harvey' with me that led me to become a professional actor (it and 'It's a Wonderful Life' both convinced my 13 year old self that Jimmy Stewart had the best job in the world!). I started listening to old-time radio about the same time - 1990 - when I was 13 or 14 years old. I grew up near Calgary, AB, Canada and a radio station there would play “Those Old Radio Shows” 7 days a week from 11pm-1am (still does!). Like my father and so many other young listeners did during the original broadcasts, I stayed up late under the covers in order to be chilled by shows like 'Inner Sanctum', 'Lights Out', 'Suspense' and 'The Whistler'. Those kinds of Thrillers captivated me most at first, but it was no time at all before I was equally enthralled by shows from other genres. Shows like 'Gunsmoke', 'The Jack Benny Program', 'Our Miss Brooks', 'X Minus 1', and 'The Adventures of Sam Spade' are still way at the top of my list of favourites.

OTR BUFFET: I have enjoyed your website and the podcasts and the original work done there. You have your own studio, that's awesome!

Peter Church: Thanks! Radio's Revenge ( is a company I started with my friend and creative partner, Sean Doyle. I met Sean when we were doing a play together. He was preparing for his next project - playing Orson Welles in a live re-enactment of 'War of the Worlds' - and as part of his research he'd been listening to a lot of 'The Mercury Theatre on the Air' and other classic OTR. Eventually, he kicked me into writing the first episode of our ‘I Smell a Mystery’ series. He promised it would strictly be for our own amusement, but very quickly started loading the recording gear into my already crowded apartment and setting us up with a home studio. Before I knew it, we had a roster of 20 professional actors very graciously offering their time and immense talent to the project.

OTR BUFFET: Where do you get your stories?

Peter Church: We have two kinds of stories at Radio's Revenge. The first is our tribute to the craft of OTR, in which we take actual radio scripts from the Golden Age of Radio and do our best to recreate them. These stories can be pulled from any genre, so long as they are in the public domain, which I believe is a great way to save some of the more obscure old shows from being forgotten. For example, our focus with this sort of story right now is on adapting teleplays from an old Boris Karloff series that was produced in 1958, though sadly never aired. The shows are allegedly based on real-life reports of the paranormal and are perfect for the medium of radio. The second kinds of stories are ones we write ourselves. So far, I’ve been writing these ones; although it’s our hope that we will be able to eventually start taking submissions from other fans of radio drama. These scripts are our chance to gently poke fun at the potentially-clumsy conventions of radio drama - our chance to acknowledge that, as modern listeners, we are looking backwards and may have moved on in our understanding of things like gender stereotypes, global relations, and... well, cigarettes. Our original series, 'I Smell a Mystery', is intended to be "gentle satire" and its stories are largely drawn from adventure series like 'The Shadow' and, of course, 'I Love a Mystery'. With it, we hope that imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery.

OTR BUFFET: Are your plays always detective-based?

Peter Church: Often, but not exclusively. Detective stories offer a kind of Dramatic Familiarity for most modern listeners (even if they’re brand new to OTR). The hard-boiled detective, the Femme Fatale, and the self-deluded villain are easy targets for Parody, while on the other hand, when done straight the ‘Noir’ genre offers a sexiness and a cynicism that is perhaps more relatable for our current culture. That being said, we do not always stay in that genre. Right now we are excitedly preparing a live broadcast for the Christmas Season and have often talked about branching out into the realm of science fiction. We also have some very exciting interactive elements coming up for our website which should be lots of fun for OTR aficionados and neophytes alike!

OTR BUFFET: Which OTR detective has influenced you the most?

Peter Church: If we can count Lamont Cranston as a “Detective”, he’d probably get the number 1 spot. If not, my favourite as a young person was Richard Diamond and I think his series probably contributed to my learning that detective fiction can still include a sense of humour. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Joe Friday in ‘Dragnet’ and I love how gritty some of those episodes feel.

OTR BUFFET: What's your ultimate goal in doing these broadcasts?

Peter Church: When Sean and I set out on this adventure, I think we both were hoping to share the shows with our close friends and perhaps share them with senior citizens; as the original listening audience we were confident that they would enjoy and appreciate this kind of “homage”. Since then however, I’ve found extreme satisfaction in watching our work become a gateway to OTR for young actors. We’re always looking for voices that suit our period setting, and every time I invite someone to audition for us, I send MP3 files with clips from the original shows – providing examples of some those fantastic character-actors of the day like Lurene Tuttle, Elliott Lewis, Junius C. Matthews, Parley Baer, Bill Conrad, and countless others. Ultimately, our hope is to build an online presence that can act as sort of “Hub” for other producers of “new-time” radio. Our dream right now is that can become a place where listeners will find links to all the great audio entertainment that is being created by contemporary artists, while at the same time being the home of our own offerings as they grow and become more refined.

OTR BUFFET: From my view, it seems like there is a lot of podcasting and original radio theater out of Canada. What's the deal up there?

Peter Church: Hey - that’s great to hear! Perhaps it’s our colonial roots... the BBC is, of course, still a leading force in contemporary audio drama, and our own CBC in Canada was a huge contributer to the Radio Play Revival of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and, even now, produces a strong series called ‘Afghanada’ that follows a fictional Canadian military unit in Afghanistan. Or perhaps it’s simply the fact that Canadians have to stay indoors during the winter, so there’s not much else to DO in Canada from November to May! Regardless, I give thanks to the radio broadcasters that faithfully play OTR in order to snare new listeners, just like CHQR 770 in Calgary did for me ( And I think you’re right – Canada does have a very rich supply of original radio theatre. For example, outstanding new fiction is podcast 3 times a week by our friends at Flashpulp (! That’s a tremendous commitment for people that rely only on listener support. Likewise, Decoder Ring Theatre ( and The Boneyard Man have built up an extremely loyal fan-base over years of broadcasts and live performances.

You can subscribe to our podcast from the website, and also look for Radio’s Revenge on Facebook and Twitter for more OTR-related goodies.

Thanks again, Jimbo, and keep up the good work!

©Jimbo 2010/2011


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