The annual radio play was born out of a crisis in 2015: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting changed their funding structure and KZMU was no longer a qualifying station. We were deemed “too small to survive.” The act of CPB withdrawing its annual funding, totaling more than $90,000 a year, put us in a tailspin. Rather than fold, our then Station Manager, Marty Durlin, sought to reaffirm KZMU’s vitality and draw even more participants and supporters to the station.
A musical playwright, she hit upon the idea of a radio play, and it was a success. Annually, we fine tune the process, increase participation and patronage and secure additional support. An artist stipend is now provided annually, to a local community member to write/direct the original radio play, through a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.
This year, the radio play was written and directed by a local woman who works in affordable housing by day and dabbles in musical theater writing by night. Over the course of a few months, “Wormhole! The Musical” was written with original music, live foley, a live band, lighting and sound. We collaborated with local youth to design and build the “Wormhole Sound Effect Machine,” which was operated live onstage by two Foley artists. The performance sold out opening night and reached a total about about 500 people, live, and potentially thousands more during the following radio broadcast. Each radio play is available in perpetuity as an archive on our website: kzmu.org.
The play is a cultural anchor and critical gathering place in our community that must be maintained especially when the community is unable to physically connect. Now more than ever, KZMU’s broadcasted presence in the community is vital. With many unable to safely gather in person or travel and experience other places, people are yearning for safe and meaningful ways to connect with their community, the world, and their own imaginations. Radio is an environment to be entered into, a site for various cultural voices to meet, converse, and merge.