After listening to five minutes of a radio drama, the students in an English class at Glendale's Hoover High School were asked what they thought the main characters in the fantasy program looked like. The answers were diverse.
For example, one student had punk rockers in mind, describing the first man as having a Mohawk haircut and the second as wearing a safety pin in his cheek. His classmates groaned.
Another student said he thought the first man was short, fat and had red hair, and others said they saw him as tall and fat with dark hair.
That divergence pleased David L. Krebs, a free-lance radio actor, writer and instructor who has been visiting English classes at Hoover High as part of a volunteer program sponsored by the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.
"With radio, you can make any picture you want because it's your picture," Krebs said. "Radio was what television is today, hard as that may be to believe."
Creating their own images from listening to a radio drama was a new experience for the students, many of whom are used to having wild imagery spoon-fed to them through rock videos. They were, after all, born a generation after television invaded American living rooms and radio began its descent.
Their reactions to the radio drama varied from "radio shows creativity" to "it's old-fashioned, outdated." Only three of the 25 students in that class had ever listened to radio drama before--a ratio Krebs said was about average for all his classes.
"It requires that they focus their attention," he said of radio. "Imagination is something everyone possesses but, like other tools that we have, it becomes difficult to use if you don't use it. It's hard because they're so used to just sitting there absorbing whatever is coming off the TV screen."
Two 17-year-old seniors in the English class, Susan Choi and Hannah Chung, said they thought Krebs' presentation was interesting and worthwhile for the "younger generation."
"TV has no imagination. Radio drama shows what you can do further," Susan said.
Although radio drama is rarely listened to these days, much less discussed in most circles, five years ago Krebs gave up a career as an aerospace engineer to devote full attention to the fading art form. He is founder and president of Glendale-based American Radio Theatre, a 70-member nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation and advancement of radio theater arts.
The organization has produced two 13-week anthology series and has enough material for a third, but is short on funds, Krebs said. He said the first two series have been heard locally on KPFK, KCSN and KPCC, and around the state on other stations.
Krebs, 39, said he realizes there is "no real big future" in radio drama and is not trying to recruit the students, but he said he believes he can use radio drama as a tool to help improve reading and writing skills. So he has volunteered to teach at Hoover once a week through a program that links schools with the business community.
The partnership program, part of a nationwide program through the national organization of Chambers of Commerce, was first tried informally in Glendale schools in 1981 under a different name--Adopt-a-School. A formal program was set up last year and the name was changed because some businesses were wary about "adopting" an entire school, said Vic Pallos, Glendale school district public information officer.
Pallos said the partnerships emphasize the giving of expertise, not money.
Eight Glendale schools have partnerships with the business community. Some of them are Bank of America-Gateway branch and Cerritos Elementary; Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Crescenta Valley High, and Glendale Adventist Medical Center and Glendale High.
Besides the partnership with American Radio Theatre, Hoover has a partnership with The Burbank Studios, which has offered drama students demonstrations on makeup.
Hopes for Expansion
This is Krebs' first semester at the school. If the program is successful, he said, he would like to visit other schools, also.
Krebs, who has taught radio-acting workshops at USC and Los Angeles City College, said he became interested in teaching communication skills to high school students when he noticed problems at the college level.
"This was kind of alarming to me. Kids are used to memorizing something, but it's difficult when required to read on the spot. I thought there had to be some way to prevent these problems," he said.
Krebs said he uses "devious ways" to help students improve their skills. One is to entertain them. He has done several performances of a "fire and brimstone" speech and has played some examples of radio drama for the students.
He said he has also had students write their own brief stories and read them to the class.
"I have noticed people are just not used to reading out loud. There is a difference between reading and interpretation," Krebs said. "I tried to point out which words convey meaning and action."