ZBS Radio drama
Article by: Witney Seibold
Radio drama is not dead.
Most people’s radio drama vocabulary doesn’t extend much further than Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” or Abbot & Costello’s “Who’s On First?”. A good number can identify Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Many know “The Shadow.” The older among us (or perhaps just the nerdier) can spot, say, “Suspense” or “Johnny Dollar.” But all of these are from the 1940s. The vast majority of people would be hard-pressed to name any radio drama produced after World War II. Is radio drama dead? Did television kill it off decades ago?
No, and no. For operating out of small town outside of Saratoga Springs, New York is a little not-for-profit radio production company called ZBS. For the past three decades, ZBS has been producing some of the most enriching, funny, spiritual, and downright strange radio in existence. ZBS was founded in 1970 by Tom Lopez, who directs, Meatball Fulton (you heard me correctly) who writes, and Tim Clark, a very talented computer composer. The shows they produce often feature characters traveling to other countries and helping others who have benn struggling with some sort of spiritual crisis that has finally begun spilling over into the real world, usually in some spectacularly magical fashion. All of the shows’ ambient sound was recorded on-site, so we get to hear the water sellers of Tangiers shouting through the dried, scented winds in “Moon Over Morocco” (1974), or the actual tribal gamelan ceremonies of Bali in “Travels with Jack: Dreams of Bali” (1992). Their shows range in length from jaunty two-hour escapades, to epic 10-hour sci-fi multidimensional operas.
They have many shows, but two heroes pop up more often than others. The first is Jack Flanders (Robert Lorick), an intrepid-yet-naïve traveler, spiritually aloof, but socially awkward, who treks around the world helping people out of mystical crises. The best show to feature Jack Flanders, “Moon Over Morocco,” has Jack traveling to Tangiers, only to pass through a spiritual gateway that can only be opened by –of all things – telling stories. The ambient sound, real spiritual basis, Berber proverbs, and sharp wit make this one of the best dramas I have encountered in any medium.
The second hero, or rather heroine, is Ruby, the Galactic Gumshoe (Laura Esterman) who, in the future, on the planet SummaNulla, uses her detecting skills and healthy supply of sass (not to mention her time-slowing superpowers) to bring down giants of consumerism and evil entities hellbent on squelching the imagination. She is often aided by a rogue’s gallery of characters which play like noir archetypes squeezed through a Play-Doh fun factory, including a talking rodent, a horny archeologist, and a bright-eyed techie. Check out “Ruby 4,” a pan-dimensional epic involving evil reptiles feeding off of humans’ spiritual energy. Ruby would bring a tear to the eye of the late Douglas Adams.
And, of course, there is more.
Perfect for road-trips, bus rides, long walks, or just sitting around, ZBS radio plays are some of the most fun, enlightening, funniest (bodhisattva jukeboxes and cosmic pinball abound), well-produced pieces of drama to come from that little talking box. Give ‘em them a try, they rock.
The ZBS Foundation: RR#1, Box 1201, Fort Edward, NY 12828. 1-800-395-2549. http://www.zbs.org . Shows range in price from $15-60. They’re worth every penny.