Radio Drama: The Case of The Nervous Bicycle Rider

July 25, 2007

by Irwin Gonshak

AAA New York has partnered with Transportation Alternatives, the New York Bicycling Coalition, the NYC DOT, and other organizations in a public-education campaign to encourage drivers and cyclists to share the road safely.

I am a member of the AAA and I ride a bicycle every day in Queens– and its getting scary out there.  Drivers don’t obey the rules and it’s getting worse.  So I thought I’d do my part to help the campaign. I’d write a short-short radio drama on the subject and send it to AAA New York Car&Travel and other magazines.

I’ve written hundreds of educational radio dramas on a great variety of subjectives; from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to Drug Abuse.  Radio drama can teach anything, and entertain as well.

Therefore: THE CASE OF THE NERVOUS BICYCLE RIDER… AND THE COOOL BICYCLE SONG.

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Making Fun and Strange Sounds from Outer Space

January 15, 2007

Making Fun and Strange Sounds from Outer Space

by Irwin Gonshak for The Sound Palette (Jan. 15, 2007)

In the early 1970s, the NYC Board of Education’s radio station WNYE-FM helped to set up In Touch Networks for the blind and handicapped. We won a grant in 1976 from the NYCouncil for the Humanities to do a radio series called, “Liberation for the Handicapped.” I was the writer and producer for the series, and I wrote an essay called “Making Fun” for the press release on the program “Stereotypes” which included original comments from Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Sam Levenson, and Maureen Nolan (handicapped Barnard College student). Here is the essay. But first one aside: I used to walk through the crowded Manhattan streets with the late James R. Jones, Executive Director of In Touch, who was completely blind. When alone, he would walk himself with just his stick to guide him. When he was with me, he’d hold my arm and say, “When I have someone to steer me, I always feel like I’m on vacation.”

Click here to download PDF version of MAKING FUN

In the late 1970s I learned that Scholastic wanted to do an audio series on listening skills for the elementary school grades. Since radio drama is my field, I felt I could easily write a simple radio drama–dealing with the skill: following a sequence of events (just a few characters with a strong story line that goes in a straight line from beginning to end). I wrote “Strange Sounds from Outer Space” which Scholastic accepted and which became the prototype for the series. Incidentally, Hamburger Heaven used to be a fast food chain in Manhattan, which I believe no longer is in business… but still lives on in my radio drama.
Click here to download PDF version of STRANGE SOUNDS FROM OUTER SPACE

Irwin Gonshak can be reached at IGonshak@aol.com 


Article: Sounds In My Life

November 19, 2006

Sounds In My Life
by Irwin Gonshak for The Sound Palette

Irwin Gonshak

There are certain sounds in my life that remain with me to this very day. Why these sounds? It’s hard to say. Perhaps Freud could give me some answers. The great man had to delve into his own subconscious to learn why the roar of a train gave him panic attacks. But that’s another story. Now to review the significant sounds in my life…

As a kid listening on the radio to the Uncle Don program in the early evening, I would sing along, “This is your Uncle Don, your Uncle Don… Hello little friends… Hello.” Never forgot the song. Years later I learned that Uncle Don at the end of a program thinking the mike was off said ,” That ought to hold those little bastards!” And then was fired. When I researched the incident, I learned that it was all a myth, never happened. So my faith in the goodness of Uncle Don remains… and anytime you want me to sing his ditty… just ask.Living in Brooklyn, I would hear a peddler every day call out, “I buy and sell old clothes! Old clothes for sale!” as he trudged through the lonely streets. Poor peddler! Makes me sad to think of his plaintive call… but I’ll never forget him. Probably still calling, “I buy and sell old clothes! Old Clothes for sale!” in peddler’s heaven somewhere.

Will I ever forget the sound of hoofbeats and “The William Tell Overture” beginning the Lone Ranger radio program? Thrilling! Masculine! Exciting! Adventurous! Just what a little boy longs for. And I guess I still do.

As an older boy, I was able to listen to radio programs broadcast later in the night. I would hear the creaking door that began the Inner Sanctum Mysteries plays. Scary! I now always oil my doors so they don’t creak. Just kiddin’ But this is true: today I know the producer of Inner Sanctum Mysteries — Himan Brown— still going strong in his 90s– still creaking doors wherever he goes.

When I was 16, I worked on a farm upstate in the summer to gain credits to enter Cornell Ag School (free tuition) and early every morning I would wake to hear the cows mooing to be milked. A pitiful, mournful wail that still speaks of the sorrow of all living creatures on the planet. Moooooooo….

Then when I was a freshman at Cornell, walking across the quadrangle, I would hear the chiming of the bells from the Bell Tower announcing the hour of the day. All’s well with the world… still I was long way from home in Jamaica, Queens… and just a little homesick. Years later as a scriptwriter, I would use the chiming of Big Ben to indicate that my private eye Johnny Nickel was in London.
Enlisting in the US Navy when still 17, I was stationed on the USS Rawlins bringing home the troops from Asia after the end of World War II. On ship I would hear the tinny whistle of the bosun’s pipe… wondering what it meant… asking the old salts on board what was the message. I just wanted to hear that we were headed for the Panama Canal and up the East Coast to a port in Virginia… going home at last. But I did have a great job aboard ship–I was in charge of the deep sink. I can still hear the sound of the brillo pads scrubbing the pots and pan clean… and once they were cleaned, I could go back to reading the Great Books of Western Civilization. The USS Rawlins was my Harvard and Yale.

In my 20s I would listen to radio drama from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). I remember one infused with the call of the loon… across the lake… I remember that lonesome call… but nary a word of the play itself . Why? Sigmund where are you when we need you?

Finally I myself became a professional radio drama writer with hundreds of my scripts performed on the airways. I will always remember a script called “London Killer Smog” from my series PRIVATE EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT– where the tapping of a cane on the sidewalk was a key element of the drama. My private eye is stuck on top of a smoke stack examining the cause of the killer smog engulfing London. Because of the dense fog, no one can find Johnny Nickel to rescue him… but the little old blind housekeeper of Sherlock Holmes can tap her way– listening to the echo of her tapping from the buildings… to guide the rescuers through the smog to Johnny. Tap, tap, tap… The broadcast won the Ohio State Media Award which was presented to me in D.C. by the widow of Edward R. Morrow. Tap…tap… tap…

But I shouldn’t leave out my daughter’s cry when she was a couple of days old… and I was sleeping by her on the couch to give my wife a rest… I awoke in the middle of night to what seemed to me was the meowing of a kitten… meooow…but we didn’t have a kitten… no pets allowed in our development, Parkway Village, in Queens… I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes… and gave the little “kitten” a bottle of milk…and the meoooowing ceased.

Now I’m deaf in one ear… from an infection I had when I was in my 40s… and now when I put a phone to my left ear, I don’t hear the tone… but when I put a hand radio to my deaf ear… I can make out what is being broadcast… strange… spooky… are the gods of radio trying to tell me something… but please don’t shout at me… my right ear is perfectly A–OK! And off in the distance… in my imagination… I can still hear the lonesome whistle of the train off in the distance… coming to take me home from where my ship docked in Virginia… home was the sailor ready to scrub the pots and pans with brillo pads in his own deep sink in Jamaica, Queens.

  • Irwin Gonshak, Teachers & Writers Collaborative radio producer and chair of the WGAE Short Radio Drama Committee. Email: igonshak@aol.com

Postscript: Recently I read the following in a magazine: When actress Sharon Stone was asked which great American she’d like to make a movie about, she answered, “My high school art teacher, Mrs. Virginia Kutz. She was so interesting and modern. She traveled in the summer, which was unheard of in our small town. She would bring back recorded sounds and have us paint what we heard or guess where she was. She expounded the possibility of possibility.” One wonders what sounds the art teacher brought back from her summer journeys… if she went to the Big Apple… was it the cacophony of car horns on Fifth Avenue… or the cooing of pigeons in Central Park?


A Modest Proposal For Think Radio

September 21, 2006

Irwin Gonshak

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR THINK RADIO
By Irwin Gonshak for The Sound Palette

Proposed: That One Radio Station in Every US City Be Devoted Exclusively to Broadcasting a University of the Air.

Herman Melville said the whaling ship was his Harvard and Yale. My Harvard and Yale was the radio… back in the 1930s and 40s. After school I would run home to the radio and listen to world heavyweight champion James Braddock teach me how to box in ten easy lessons. WOR’s Let’s Pretend taught me the strange tales from the four winds. A little later on, Professor Gilbert Highet on WCBS taught me about the Greek and Roman classics, about Homer and Virgil. WQXR’s The Author Meets the Critics taught me about James Joyce and Thomas Mann. WEAF’s Town Hall Meeting of the Air taught me about the conflict between isolationists and the interventionists before World War II.

In 1940, Edward R. Murrow called radio the biggest classroom in the world. As Director of Talks at WCBS, he had world leaders, scientists, artists gives scripted talks to the radio audience on their field of endeavor; for example– Albert Einstein talked about his Theory of Relativity, Eleanor Roosevelt talked about human rights. Radio taught history, languages, literature, drama, science, music– all the disciplines. I’ve always felt that radio can do anything, quickly and cheaply. No expensive equipment needed. Radio can reach the listener anywhere, anytime. Radios are in all homes, many times over.

I’ve spent my life in radio, writing and producing hundreds of dramatic scripts on every imaginable subject from Monsoons in India to the Underground Railroad. Radio can teach Japanese. Radio can teach parenting. Radio can teach Shakespeare.

My passion is radio drama. At WNBC, I wrote dozens of scripts on Jewish history and culture for The Eternal Light series which was broadcast on Sundays from the Radio City Music Hall studio– live, coast to coast. At WNYE-FM, then run by the NYC Board of Education, we used radio drama to supplement the curriculum– and from 9 AM–3 PM weekdays, our 15 minute educational radio dramas were heard by students in schools across the city. I wrote hundreds of radio scripts for WNYE-FM about the whole world: Out of the Past, Private Eye on the Environment, Dateline, Africa!, Read Me the Comics!, Drug Abuse! Dead End!, Math Plus!, 20th Century Science,and dozens of other series that dealt with subjects students were studying in the classroom.

In 1976, the NYC budget crisis led to the abandonment of the production staff at WNYE-FM. Yet I continued to produce educational radio programs by winning grants for WNYE-FM. For example, with the grants we were able to produce a series on teaching the US Constitution with the New York Historical Society; a documentary on Troubled Times, Troubled Teenagers with Margaret Mead; a dramatic series on Holocaust Experiences based on survivors’ memoirs; Emergency Stance with FEMA;Safety Zone/ Stay Alert! on child abuse prevention. Using the talents of nineteen poets from Teachers & Writers Collaborative, we were able to broadcast a series on poetic forms. In a language series, teachers from the NYC public schools, Japan Society, Columbia University, SUNY, CUNY introduced listeners to Russian, Greek, Chinese, Yiddish and Japanese. With the Library of America and Teachers & Writers Collaborative, we produced a series called Teacher as Historian with talks by scholars nationwide on American History. A weekly series from the University of Missouri, Kansas City with the Organization of American Historians was broadcast on Teacher as Historian. Many of these series continue to be rebroadcast on WNYE-FM/ 91.5-RADIO NEW YORK which is now operated by the NYC Government.

Currently I am radio producer for Teachers & Writers Collaborative and produce a series called EVERYTHING GOES?– literary readings, talks, discussions, dramas– on all subjects– broadcast every weekday from 6:30–7 PM on WNYE-FM. Recently to further the cause of radio drama, we produced a BIG APPLE SHORT RADIO DRAMA FESTIVAL ON WNYE-FM— with scores of scripts submitted worldwide– with the support of the Writers Guild of America, East, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Brooklyn College Radio, NYU Dept. of TV/Radio, Hassberry Theatre Company, and others.

Most radio today is diverting, informational, commercial, forgetable, but not educational. There are no radio stations that devote their entire broadcast day to courses in world literature or foreign languages or ancient history or world geography or science or… Yet education is a national priority. Once again– as it was in years past– we need instructional radio that will, as Agatha Christie’s private detective Hercule Poirot says, “make your little grey cells work!”

What should be done? The government should set aside one radio station in every city for a consortium of colleges and other educational institutions (with the necessary funds) to broadcast instructional series throughout the day and evening, seven days a week. Then, at least, listeners would have the opportunity to educate themselves conveniently and pleasantly, on that part of the dial reserved for THINK RADIO– THE UNIVERSITY OF THE AIR.
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Irwin Gonshak is Chair of the WGAE Short Radio Drama Committee, as well as radio producer for Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

Email Irwin: igonshak@aol.com