Evening of New Year’s Day. A Sunday evening. Central Michigan. Just about recovered from the effects of the night before. Watched the various parades and football games. Loafed around. Now it’s almost time for bed. Work tomorrow.
Cold outside. Wonder if it’s gonna snow? It’s almost ten … check out the college radio station. Maybe catch the forecast.
I can imagine leaving the radio on while you putter about the place, putting dishes in the sink, turning off the lights. You hear the announcer say something about a play for radio. He drones on about awards, London, Broadway, Robert Altman, blah, blah, blah … you mentally tune out.
What the hell? Somebody breathing. Breathing heavily, sounds like. Stumbling around. Crashes. The heck is going on?
Then nothing. Did they go off the air?
All of a sudden … this noise! Voices on top of voices. This is crazy! What is going on here?
You turn the volume up; slowly sit down. You’re hooked.
This was Earplay, and it wasn’t your grandparent’s radio drama. (Sadly it wasn’t to be your grandchildren’s either.) It began in 1971 at WHA, Madison, the brainchild of Karl Schmidt. Schmidt was a radio actor in New York before becoming the director of radio for the University of Wisconsin. He was also head of something called the National Center for Audio Experimentation, based at WHA as well. His love of radio drama and appreciation of the creative possibilities of audio came together with Earplay.
The series was eventually distributed by NPR, going on to win scads of prestigious awards. This was back in the day of direct funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When the CPB ended that support in 1981, Earplay began its fade into the obscurity of public radio history.
You can hear the entire program any number of places on the Interwebs, but I’m glad I stumbled across this air check somebody uploaded to MediaFire. I love the context of the local announcer reading the weather and wishing his listeners “a very happy New Year and the best in 1978.”