Today’s youth have never lived in a world without the internet, so one might think their knowledge of old-time radio programs is practically non-existent.
At least locally, middle school student’s aren’t just listening to those old-time radio shows — they’re performing in them. It’s thanks to a program Pauline Jennings started for Northfield Middle School students last month, and soon, she will extend the offering to Faribault youngsters.
Twelve-year-old Kosmo Esplan said he previously watched and enjoyed older TV shows like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” but his knowledge of old-time radio shows was limited until he started taking Jennings’ acting class. Since then, he’s performed in two broadcasts of the radio show “Challenge of the Yukon,” which aired on KYMN.
“This was kind of a good learning experience, too,” said Esplan. “Now there’s this website that has a ton of different radio programs, so if I have the time I might like to listen to those because they’re just so fun.”
Old-time radio, also known as the Golden Age of Radio, lasted from the 1930s through the 1940s, ending when TV became the preferred entertainment medium in American households. Much of the programming was controlled by advertising agencies, and featured musical performances, quiz shows, children’s shows serials, situation comedies and soap operas.
Esplan served as Jennings’ production assistant for the first couple shows and thinks she deserves “a very special shoutout” for “orchestrating this event.”
Jennings has directed and starred in performances at the Northfield Arts Guild, but COVID-19 has prevented the usual in-person shows from going on.
“I was going to be in a show for the Guild that was cancelled, and the kids were doing a Purple Door production that got cancelled,” said Jennings. “The stuff I do is around people, and I couldn’t really do those things I had planned, so had to start thinking about other ideas.”
Jennings developed a plan to offer character classes online, and that morphed into the idea to do a radio show for students to perform on KYMN. She emailed several middle school students who signed up for her character class. The rest, like the Golden Age of Radio, is history.
Having completed two sessions with Northfield Middle School students in May, Jennings recently got permission to offer the same program to Faribault students starting in June. Since the program is offered remotely, students living anywhere can sign up.
Each two-week session, the first from June 8 through 19 and the second from June 22 through July 2, will include rehearsals via Zoom during the week and recording on the final day of the program. Jennings said six to eight students per session is ideal for the online format, and the young actors should have some theater experience.
The students who have participated in the show performed parts from “Challenge of the Yukon,” which aired in the U.S. from 1938 to 1955. The show follows the adventures of Sgt. William Preston and his sidekick, the “Yukon King” in the 1890s Gold Rush era.
Esplan said the first KYMN radio broadcast episode of “Challenge of the Yukon” featured a man who was robbed of $25,000 in gold. The second episode’s plot was more complex, he said, involving a murder suspect.
Since the commercials written for the radio show are now outdated, Jennings challenged the young actors to write their own jingles and perform them at the beginning and halfway through the show. Jennings said the young participants were “generous in spirit” as they picked the commercials they sincerely liked best rather than advocating for their own to be chosen.
The first commercial Esplan wrote for the program was about Crazy Dayz in Northfield, and the second commercial, set during the 1900s, advertised a “new” flashlight.
The group used the Garage Band application to edit the commercials and recorded the show via Zoom in one take with no edits. Actors read from the script and added simple sound effects, like knocking and footsteps, during the recording. Jennings later added more complex sounds, like the whooshing wind, and western bumper music, to complete the project. The first couple programs have already aired on KYMN, but listeners who missed the episodes can also play them at kymnradio.net/tag/challenge-of-the-yukon.
“You will have the time of your life,” Esplan said to prospective participants. “I don’t think of it as learning, even though that’s what it is, just because it’s so much fun.”
Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.