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Return With Them Now . . .

Youngsters get a hands-on experience in re-creating a program from radio's golden age.


Buzzers whirr. Bells go off. Coconut shells clomp-clomp. It's just another Saturday morning at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills, and another group of children is stepping back in time to experience radio the way their grandparents once did.

By participating in the "Re-creating Radio" workshops, children find out how the radio shows from the '30s through the early '50s were put together while rediscovering a skill overlooked in this visual age: They learn to listen.

"We tend in our age today to emphasize television," says Carla Fantozzi, the museum's education manager. "But old-time radio had the same ability to bring people to new places that TV does now."

The program, 2 years old in Los Angeles, started a dozen years ago at the museum's New York location when NBC offered sound effects from the radio era, said Bob Batscha, president of the museum. Props donated by CBS are used in Los Angeles.

"Young kids would come into the museum, and they weren't particularly interested in radio," he said. So they took a couple of scripts, expanded them to create more parts and started pulling kids into the past.

Each week, the trip back in time encompasses a different genre. This Saturday, children and adults can act out and do the sound effects for a western, "The Lone Ranger," but other weeks feature action-adventure ("Superman"), mystery ("The Shadow" or "Rick Lowell, Private Eye") or a comic soap opera ("Life's Little Ups and Downs," created to go with the museum's soap opera exhibition).

When a group of up to 20 people arrives, it is divided into two--one group to read the script and another to do the sound effects. There is a 9-year-old age minimum to ensure everyone can read well.

The workshops try to replicate the entire experience, from auditioning to rehearsal to performance, all within 90 minutes. The audition sheets enable the producers to pluck out the good readers, but the sound effects are what the participants often clamor to perform.

"A number of parents have had fights with their children over who can do the sound effects," Batscha says, admitting he once vied with his son over who would do them."Everybody wants to break the glass or stomp the coconut shells on the stands for the horses."

The glass-breaking machine, in which glass that's encased is broken by a lever, is a favorite, says Ken Mueller, radio manager of the curatorial department.

"This is a great experience for them to learn a little more about how sound is used in terms of radio and be able to use a script," he says.

Following auditions in the 40-seat screening room, a video clip is used to explore the difference between radio and television and how sound plays such an important role in radio. The discussion of old-time radio gives the drama director much-needed time to cast the play.

Those chosen to do sound effects are taken to rehearse in another room, where the performance also will be recorded. Each newly christened sound effects artist might have two roles, Fantozzi says, re-creating such sounds as walking on a floor and having a fistfight or using a buzzer or fire bell.

After about 20 minutes of rehearsal, the vocal and sound effects actors do a combined run-through before the real thing. Once a performance starts, it is never stopped, Fantozzi says.

"If they can't say a word, they just skip right over it," she says. "You don't have the opportunity to turn it off and start over. After the read-through, the kids usually have it, but it's never a perfect presentation."

But everyone has a good time, Fantozzi adds. The recording is played back so they can immediately experience it, and each participant is later mailed an audiotape of the group's radio performance. The audiotape also makes a good favor for birthday parties that book the entire workshop for $125.

"What's fun is to hear parents and grandparents sharing their experiences with the kids," Fantozzi says. "It's a different type of learning experience. It's all participatory, and you are not aware that you are really learning a lot."

The workshop is one of the most popular things the museum does, Batscha says. So popular that many adults have put in a request for a workshop they can call their own.


"Re-creating Radio" workshops, Saturdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Museum of Television & Radio, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. Children must be at least 9 years old. $5 tickets must be purchased in advance. Call (310) 786-1014 between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

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