Thursday, August 13, 2009

Like Us: Youth-Themed Radio Drama Coming to College Radio

Way back in the early days of radio, dramatic productions were a staple of the medium. Families would gather around and listen to stories together in the evening. Even when I was a kid in the 1970s, I would listen to old radio dramas like "The Shadow" late at night in my room as I was falling asleep.

Today, you'll be hard-pressed to find radio stations playing radio drama. WNUR at Northwestern University is an exception, as they have a weekly radio show devoted to radio drama. Northwestern University Radio Drama (NURD) works from scripts written by students, both past (from as far back as the 1940s) and present.

Additionally, the station where I DJ, KFJC, has aired a number of radio dramas and serials over the years. When I first joined around 1998, DJ Nora Maki was at the helm of a weekly serial called "Hades Ham Journal" that aired every Friday night. In 2001, a group of us under the direction of DJ Thurston Hunger performed Lauri Bortz's play "Skirting the Issue" live over the air as a radio drama.

So, I applaud Vernae Williams for diving into the world of radio drama. Starting in September, her ongoing serial "Like Us," will be coming to college radio stations around the country. Using a very short-form format (60 to 90 second episodes), the series will focus on the friendship of three teen girls in Atlanta and the struggles that they face. As with any proper soap opera, she promises: Hookups, Secrets, Lies, and Deceit!

Vernae told me that she was inspired to create a series focusing on young African-American women because she felt like their experiences were not portrayed in mainstream media. As she's gearing up for her radio debut, she began her radio outreach with stations at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), although she told me that the series will have appeal beyond the African-American community as its themes touch on issues relevant to all young people.

So far she has around 11 college radio stations lined up to air "Like Us," including stations at Albany State (WASU), Alcorn State, Delaware State (WDSU), Grambling State (KGRM), and Howard University (WHUR). She's hoping to launch with at least 20 stations, so if you're interested, be sure to get in touch.

I chatted with Vernae recently about her endeavor and why she thinks college radio is the perfect medium for her coming of age soap opera for youth.

Spinning Indie: Can you briefly describe "Like Us"?

Vernae Williams: "Like Us" is a coming of age radio drama about three girls whose social and personal lives change drastically after an unfathomable tragedy.

Spinning Indie: What inspired you to create a radio drama?

Vernae: One day I was watching TV and I came across a few shows like "The Hills," "One Tree Hill" and "Dawson's Creek" and I then realized that there were NO shows with an entire African American cast-- therefore our story was not being told.

Three years later, I had written a television script and was working with a production company that was pitching "Like Us" to various television networks, but things weren't working out so I decided to end the relationship between me and the production company. When I left the production company I felt as if I was back to where I was three years ago and I didn't really know what to do until one day I was riding down the street listening to the radio and I started to imagine the show as a radio drama. I thought about how Guiding Light started out and the success of Tom Joyner's radio drama "It's Your World" and I went for it.

Spinning Indie: Why did you decide to debut it on college radio?

Vernae: The college radio market is so untapped and under used. I knew, if promoted and marketed right, bringing "Like Us" to college radio stations would bring great attention to the schools, their stations and the show. Not to mention that "Like Us" is about college students and the things they go through, so the idea of the show being in the home of my market is great.

Spinning Indie: How are you finding/selecting stations?

Vernae: I started out with HBCU stations, which have been the most supportive. I send out emails, make calls, contact through social networks and also use my personal connections to contact the stations.

Spinning Indie: Do you have any "dream" stations that you'd like it to air on?

Vernae: I believe each station that is a participating is my dream station. Each station reaches college students and the college students are my target audience.

Spinning Indie: What do you love about college radio? radio in general?

Vernae: Radio gives you the opportunity to really use your imagination and have fun with your thoughts and the things you're hearing. With college radio I'll have a chance to work closely with those that inspire "Like Us": the students.

Spinning Indie: Anything else you'd like to share?

Vernae: I am extremely excited and can't until the show airs, which is in late September. If there are any potential stations that are interested in airing "Like Us" or if anyone would like any additional information on the show I can be reached at I am also looking for sponsors, so if there are any sponsors interested in supporting "Like Us" please contact me.

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