Parkland communication students create ‘The ABC Murders’

Peter Floess

Staff Writer

Photo by Scott Wells | The Prospectus Communications majors Austen Pontious and Alec Ballard sit in the studio of WPCD on Nov. 23, 2015. Pontious and Ballard worked as producers on the recent radio drama presentation “The ABC Murders.”

Photo by Scott Wells | The Prospectus
Communications majors Austen Pontious and Alec Ballard sit in the studio of WPCD on Nov. 23, 2015. Pontious and Ballard worked as producers on the recent radio drama presentation “The ABC Murders.”

Parkland’s radio station 88.7 WPCD broadcasted “The ABC Murders” on Monday, Nov. 23 and Wednesday, Nov. 25 at noon and 6 p.m. The radio show is produced and performed by students of Communication 140: Voice and Diction, taught by Sara Thiel and Communication 142: Introduction to Radio Production, taught by Adam Porter. The idea behind “The ABC Murders” was to try to recreate a CBS radio drama from 1943, which, according to Porter was during the “Golden Age” of radio in the United States.

This is the second time that Communication 140 and Communication 142 have worked together to recreate a radio drama from the “Golden Age” of radio, according to WPCD director Deane Geiken. The idea for presenting a radio drama came from Porter and fellow Communication instructor Julie Weishar.

“I found it to be a very exciting opportunity, and I am so glad we were able to make it happen again!” Thiel said.

The first part of making “The ABC Murders” was choosing and recording a script based on an Agatha Christie’s novel from CBS’s “Suspense” radio show in 1943. Student Scott Barnes voiced the main character of Alexander Bonaparte Cust.

“I spent a couple of class periods going over the script in my COM 140 course and I put in an additional hour or two of my own time memorizing my lines,” Barnes said, “I absolutely enjoyed being a part of this radio production.”

After the character voices were recorded, the next part of the project involved the Communication 142 students, who had to produce the program. According to Porter, “COM 142 students recorded all of their dialogue, then edited that dialogue, created original sound effects, layered music cues throughout, and prepared a final mix to be aired on the radio.”

Communication 142 was divided into two groups; one group worked on the noon shows and the other group worked on the 6 p.m. shows. The production behind each of the two versions of “The ABC Murders” is different. The voices are the same in each version,.

Several communication 142 students agreed to provide some insight into their work producing this radio show: MacKensie Archibald, Whitney Czerwonka, Ryan Marshall, and Angel Ortega. Archibald worked on finding music from the 1940s for her group’s version of the show. Czerwonka worked on editing the voices, the music, and the special effects and making sure the volume levels were correct so that the right mood would be portrayed to the listener.

Marshall, who was in the same production group as Czerwonka, was involved in all parts of his group production. Czerwonka and Marshall’s group did not delegate tasks. Ortega, who was in same group as Archibald, worked on editing the dialogue and making sure the volume was level so everything would run smoothly for her group show. Ortega was also in charge of the final mix for her group, and made sure everything ran well during the final draft of the show.

Porter says he required his students to make their own “foley,” which are the sound effects of everyday life, for use in the radio play. These include recording and editing sounds like footsteps, doors closing, drinks being poured, public ambience, and much more. They can use portable recorders out in the field or record sounds in the studio. According to Marshall, some of the non-foley special effects came from the websites such as freesound.org.

“The ABC Murders” took about a month for Communication 142 students to produce. According to Marshall, producing the show took every class period for a month, plus a few extra hours in the radio station. All the members of Communication 142 that were interviewed said it was a lot of work, but they would do it again.

“It was so much fun making this dull 1940s radio mystery into a 2015 version using new and old techniques.” Ortega said. “I would love to do this in the future and perhaps have a weekly, originally scripted radio show like this every week.”