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Photos by Scott Christensen

The radio drama is alive and well with CJSW’s Darkside Drive

By Matty Hume, February 13 2018 — 

With the popularity of scripted podcasts like Welcome to Nightvale and announcements like Marvel’s upcoming serialized podcast, Wolverine: The Long Night, it’s safe to say the radio drama is back. Unsurprisingly, the Calgary arts community is ahead of the curve.

The spooky and completely live radio drama anthology Darkside Drive has already wrapped up its second season on CJSW 90.9 FM, the community radio station located on the University of Calgary campus. With the majority of writers on the show being Calgarian and all 35 cast members being from the city’s performing arts community, the return of the chilling buzz of FM storytelling is a truly close-to-home achievement.ARTS_DarkSideDrive_ScottChristensen-9802

Taking inspiration from Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone, Darkside Drive explores the strange and dreadful secrets of Mayfield Falls. Justin Guild, the producer of the program, got into radio at Oregon Public Broadcasting. After reading news on-air, the drive to develop a project that was different struck a chord — and that’s where Calgary and CJSW came in. Guild says the show stemmed from a conversation with author and screenwriter Don Roff.

“I was on the phone with Don and casually mentioned that I’d like to do a radio drama anthology. He just happened to have an idea stashed away for a television anthology called Darkside Drive,” Guild says. “Much like the Rod Serling series Night Gallery, where each story is represented by a painting in a gallery, Darkside Drive is a street where each house in the fictional town of Mayfield Falls is an individual story.”

Guild describes the first season as an experimental experience — all episodes of season one were recorded live-to-tape, so the cast and crew would be primed for a live broadcast down the road. For the second season, they committed to broadcasting every episode live, making Darkside Drive the first live-radio drama in Calgary for nearly 80 years. A worthwhile exception to the live broadcast was the season opener, a standalone musical titled “A Penny Earned,” featuring music composed by longtime Calgary rock favourites Forbidden Dimension.ARTS_DarkSideDrive_ScottChristensen-9816

Guild says mixing the production quality of modern technology with the challenging aspects of a live program was worth the effort.

“When you listen back to older dramas, before the advent of tape, they had very basic sound effects. Quickly, everything moved to tape and you could edit in whatever you wanted,” Guild says. “Now, with the advent of computers, I can layer soundscapes, sound effects and musical scoring immediately and live, something not possible before on such a scale.”

The process of putting the live drama together begins with the writers. After story ideas are pitched and ordered, a script of about 4,600 words is put together for a half-hour episode. After putting a draft through editors Stephanie Tshappat and Jordan Simpson and back to the writers, the process repeats itself.

“Rinse, repeat — you have a script in about two to four drafts,” Guild says.

The production cycle itself works on a three-week schedule, which includes scheduling studios, rehearsals and prepping required sounds, script-reads and the live performance. Prep work includes preparing a score for the live broadcasts, which was done largely by Sarah Rowe, a local !earshot charting electronic music artist under the name StegoSarahs.ARTS_DarkSideDrive_ScottChristensen-9786

Officially, the second season wrapped up on Jan. 31. There are plans to produce bonus episodes within the Darkside Drive universe, including a radio spin-off of Darkside Drive’s most downloaded episode, “Captain Courageous,” titled The Dicky Kells Show from director Ben Rowe.

Pending funding, season three of Darkside Drive is planned for Fall 2019. Guild says he’s more than willing to continue the project and is proud of the production’s accomplishments so far.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance and experience. Opportunities like this do not present themselves often,” Guild says. “Speaking as a producer, I’m very proud of this. It has been an absolute dream working with the writers, actors, musicians and with CJSW.”

Listen to season two of Darkside Drive on iTunes, cjsw.com and darksidedrive.com and put yourself right in the middle of the drama with the 360° videos available for every live episode on the CJSW YouTube channel.

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