(First published in the March 5, 2020 issue of City Pages)
Wausau Community Radio Players bring back old timey radio with live performances
PHOTO BY DAVE KALLAWAY
The Wausau Community Radio Players are putting on live performances of old radio programs.
It turns out that local radio personalities enjoy actually seeing their audiences once in a while. Ten people, all of them current or former on-air personalities familiar to local listeners, have formed the Wausau Community Radio Players theatre group, with the mission of, “Bringing the golden age of radio back to Wisconsin.” You can see exactly what they mean at their next performance Saturday, March 28 at the Elks Lodge in downtown Wausau.
The Radio Players is the brainchild of Chad Zerkle, known as Chad Edwards on WIFC 95.5 FM, who says he stole the idea from a friend in another state. The performers span a wide range of ages. One of members, Lee Peek, is old enough to remember sitting around a radio with his family as a kid, listening to programs like the ones they’re bringing to the stage of the Elks Lodge. Two of the players are in their 20s and they’re joining in to perform one episode from the Sherlock Holmes radio program and one episode of the Fibber McGee and Molly comedy series that ran from 1935 until 1959. “If you’re in radio, you love to entertain. That’s all there is to it,” Zerkle says.
Zerkle is jazzed enough about it that the tone of his voice changes as he describes how the group will add visuals to what would normally be an audio-only experience. The players will be in period dress and, for the audience, it will be like watching all that happens in a broadcast performance. “The scripts are in front of us and we read them just like they would have in the 40s.”
The sound-effects person, who might vary from act to act, will be right behind them, whenever possible doing the sound effects as they would have been done in that era. There will be an “ON AIR” sign and one for applause too. Don Clark, a former on-air personality in Wausau, will record a newscast of events that happened in the 1930s to 1950s era.
Radio shows in those day were done in front of studio audiences, so the Wausau Community Radio Players are doing what they can to make this audience feel they’re a part of the nostalgia. “We try to get them into that zone. It’s November fourth, 1944,” Zerkle says.
Their approach to these performances must work. They did one show a year ago, and though Zerkle didn’t know what to expect in terms of audience appreciation, “For the last year, I’ve been begged and begged, do another one.” So, he’s obliging, but it’s tough to see how he has the time. His full-time job is as an emergency dispatcher at the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department. He’s also a dad, a volunteer firefighter in Kronenwetter and squeezes in some on-air shifts at WIFC every week.
Joining the cast of the players is another busy guy from WIFC, Dave Kallaway. He did not hesitate to sign on when Zerkle first told him about the idea. “The real treat in being part of the Wausau Radio Players is getting the chance to bring to life these wonderful old theater scripts that were done a long, long time ago,” Kallaway says.
Zerkle says he has one small worry about their upcoming show: “This Fibber and McGee and Molly— we’re having a hard time getting through it without laughing.”
Their performance Saturday, March 28 is a dinner show event, starting at 5:00 pm with a cocktail hour. The roast beef dinner is at 6:00 with the show to follow. Tickets are $30 with a portion of the sale price going to the Wausau Elks Lodge. Tickets are sold at the lodge, CW Auto Clinic at 606 S. Third Ave., or online at WausauRadioPlayers.com.