Miss. College Revives Old-Time Radio Serial
Students Act Out Drama on Weekly Radio Show
MAYHEW, Miss. (AP) — Before television annexed the American landscape, many an early-20th century family passed evenings crowded around the home radio set. The “talking telegram” opened windows on a wider world. In radio’s golden age, the old Philco brought news, a president’s fireside chats, big band tunes and heroes to believe in — the Lone Ranger, Superman, Buck Rogers. Radio’s serial dramas were running stories with characters to root for and plots that left listeners eager to “tune in next week.”
Don Vaughan is reviving the time-honored serial — and teaching his students at the time. The Speech and Theatre instructor on the East Mississippi Community College-Golden Triangle campus pens scripts and puts his students on the air weekly, acting out a drama titled “Search for Happiness.” The short program is broadcast live Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. this summer on EMCC’s own station, WGTC 92.7 FM. While complementing EMCC’s branding efforts, the station gives students opportunities for invaluable knowledge of media in general, and radio in particular.
“The show is a parody of the long-running daytime drama ‘Search for Tomorrow,” Vaughan explained. (“Search for Tomorrow” was originally to be called “Search for Happiness,” before creator Roy Winsor changed the title a few weeks before the first broadcast in 1951.)
“EMCC is the only college anywhere that’s producing a live radio drama!” said Vaughan, who is general manager of the station that celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. The Maben native with a doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi, a master’s from Ole Miss and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama is a former on-air personality for WKOR in Starkville and WTBC in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
He is an admitted fan of daytime dramas, particularly the ones he grew up watching. “Dark Shadows” was his favorite. In the past two years, he’s felt privileged to write a three-act drama with former “Dark Shadows” actress Kathleen Cody.
During fall and spring semesters, Vaughan does the WGTC morning show from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., when students begin coming in to write and anchor live fiveminute newscasts.
He is joined on Tuesday mornings during fall and spring by EMCC English Composition instructor Laura Vernon for “Hope for Tomorrow,” another Vaughan radio drama, one he says threatens to send him into bouts of uncontrolled laughter on air, thanks, in part, to Vernon’s on-point character interpretations.
To all appearances, Vaughan is having a ball writing and producing the weekly “Search for Happiness,” which debuted June 1, with students from a previous class.
“I love to write,” said the instructor who says he often gets story ideas after exercising. Current storyline’s revolve around a hapless car crash victim with a wandering wife, a hot-footed bridegroom anxious to get to the altar, interfering siblings, infatuations and unholy bribes.
Vaughan relishes weaving plot twists and turns, but he’s equally enthusiastic about the project’s role in his students’ development. Twenty-year-old Edward Miskelly of Ripley is enrolled in Vaughan’s Public Speaking class and portrayed a preacher, “Brother Ben,” in the most recent broadcast.
“I really think this is going to help in being able to communicate, to know that you’re not going to freeze up if you have to talk in front of people,” said Miskelly. “When I first heard we’d be doing a radio show, I thought it would be kinda weird,” he admitted, “but it was pretty cool.”
Those are words Vaughan must like to hear. He sees the serial as a confidence-building, interactive tool that exercises critical thinking and critical listening muscles. In becoming a character, students invest their creativity to sound like that character, to make every word count in every line.
“Not everyone can do that,” Vaughan acknowledged. “It takes effort and determination. It requires losing yourself.”
From a speech and public speaking standpoint, “Any time a student can enhance his or her articulation and diction, wow, that’s really something,” Vaughan said, expanding on the radio drama’s benefits to students. Poor articulation is a bad habit and, like any other bad habit, can be corrected.
“Give me diction over volume,” he reminded students gathered in the station’s control room on campus, seconds before the drama went live.
The first voice heard over the airwaves was Kathy Smith of Columbus. Like most of her classmates, she had no idea when she signed up that her summer course would put her in front of a microphone.
“When I found out, I was kind of scared, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” said Smith, who was the “announcer.” “We’ve got a good teacher. He really pushes you to do your best.”
Being on air suits 19-year-old Bo Ford of Starkville just fine. He participated in some productions while in high school at Starkville Academy. He thinks everybody should try doing some kind of acting, “just try it out.”
“This is something unique,” Ford said. “I’ve never heard of any other college doing anything like this.”
EMCC encourages creativity and pulls it out of you, Vaughan said. “The radio drama is just one of many examples.”
So ... welcome to “Search for Happiness.” After regaining consciousness, will “Nick” persuade “Michelle” to stop seeing another fella? Will “Florence” and “Clint” become an item? And will “Brother Ben” take the bribe and refuse to marry “J.D.” and “Rachel”?
Well, for that, tune in next week. Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com