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Art for the Ear: Central Virginia’s On the Air Radio Players

On the Air Radio Players performing
On the Air Radio Players performing in November 2014 at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. OTARP

For two decades, a group in Central Virginia has been reviving the art of radio dramas. The Glen Allen-based On the Air Radio Players includes a rotating cast of actors who perform both classic and original screenplays. Virginia Currents producer Catherine Komp has more.

Learn more: On the Air Radio Players perform “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” March 3rd and 4th at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. For information about upcoming auditions follow On the Air Radio Players and listen to past performances on their website.


Joe Bishop and Dan Sands roll a large table to the middle of a rehearsal space at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. They stack it with shoes, latches and locks, metal cables, a miniature door, and a tube called a thunder stick. On The Air Radio Players use these props to create an array of sound effects for live performances, from a crowded street scene to a plane crash.

The ensemble, whose beginnings go back about twenty years, is about to rehearse for their next show, an adaptation of the 1941 film “Here Comes Mister Jordan.”

Joe Bishop: My goal with this show give everyone a chance to play with sound...

Bishop is this show’s director.

Bishop: So that way if they do any production work later or join a show after this one they know what they’re getting into. It’s a great transition, I’ve seen people go from just working [the sound effects] table to directing, producing, being the main vocal talent. We’ve got some people here, their voices blow my mind.

Woody Scott: Each one is special...

Retired teacher and local actor Woody Scott has been in several of these radio dramas. She says while they don’t have to memorize their lines, it does require some of the same processes as a theatrical production.

Scott: We have to figure out the intention of a character, we have to think about what the character sounds like and the author’s purposes and then we keep playing with the voice, so we operate in and out of ourselves almost the same way actors do.

On The Air Radio Players, whose dramas aired on WCVE between 1994 and 2001, holds open auditions for each production. While they attract people with theater and broadcast backgrounds, some start out with no acting experience at all.

Jack Mooney: I’m a huge fan of the golden age of radio.

After seeing a live show, paralegal Jack Mooney wanted to get more involved. He started coming to auditions and eventually he was cast.

Mooney: These are just shows and a performance style that you really don’t see anywhere else, you can hear them, you can find the recordings of the old shows and there are new audio dramas being recorded but to come and see a show like this, to see and hear it all come together, it’s a unique opportunity.

In the upcoming romantic-fantasy-comedy, Mooney plays boxer Joe Pendleton whose plane crashes on the way to a fight. Angel 7013, played by Scott, and her superior, Mr. Jordan determine the boxer was supposed to live an additional 50 years and begin the search for a new body for him to inhabit.

Randolph Macon Professor Don Polaski plays boxing manager Max Corkle in the upcoming production. Inspired by his daughter, Polaski started acting about five years ago. Now they perform together in local productions like this one.

Polaski: I started to doing the radio shows and she came along and did sound for one, just wanted to do sound effects, and now she’s using her voice too, which is a lot of fun.

The initiative gives people an opportunity to challenge themselves in new ways, says participants, including writing original dramas for their yearly competition. James Nygren started as a production manager and worked his way up to directing his own original screenplay.

James Nygren: When I was director, we had a ton of people who came and auditioned and it was great to see all these new faces and the past two shows that I auditioned for, again, seeing all these people I’d never seen coming and auditioning for these shows, it’s fantastic. I love the arts and I like seeing people getting involved in the arts, so it made me very happy.

Sponsored by the Henrico Department of Recreation and Parks, On the Air Radio Players perform three shows a year, all with free admission. The next performance, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” is March 3rd and 4th at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.