Radio, the theater of imagination, brought live drama to millions of American homes in the decades before the arrival of the television screen. This month the Talking Information Center, a regional reading service with thousands of daily listeners, is drawing on the techniques and traditions of live radio theater to share the old magic of the spoken word with both the visually impaired and the general audience.
Powered by its volunteers, the Marshfield-based station will stage a live production of “Rebecca,” a taut psychological mystery penned by Daphne du Maurier in 1938, a dark year when families regularly gathered around their radios to listen to inspiring speeches by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Talking Information Center’s main business is to provide live and recorded content for visually impaired and “print-impaired” listeners. Conditions such as advanced MS and Parkinson’s disease can make the act of turning pages impossible, executive director Anna Dunbar said.
The service’s volunteers read content from daily newspapers every day on the station. Readings from magazines and books also are broadcast. In addition to live readings, recorded readings are available at ticnetwork.org.
But entertainment such as live radio theater is also part of the package.
“We think it’s important to provide well-rounded programming for our listeners,” Dunbar said. “Our goal is to help our listeners to live autonomous, independent, and fulfilled lives.”
Attending a radio theater production reveals how actors, directors, and sound-effects wizards put on their shows in radio’s heyday, volunteer reader Mary Kay of Quincy said.
“They read from scripts, use several different mikes, have great sound effects,” said Kay, who attended a recent production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a film classic featuring Cary Grant’s comic hamming.
Volunteer Karen Hayes of Kingston, a former Boston Globe staffer, is making her directorial debut in “Rebecca.” After a career in journalism, Hayes looked to the reading service as an opportunity to give back. She began by reading newspaper stories live, then took part in the active radio theater program led by theater professional Eric Joseph, who has since departed.
Hayes has performed in eight productions, recently voicing the role of an elderly poisoner in “Arsenic.”
Unlike film or TV, radio narrows an actor’s focus. “It’s all about the voice,” she said.
But directing poses another challenge. Sound effects are crucial in radio dramas, Hayes said, and it’s up to the director to produce the right sound at the right moment. The center’s live productions use recorded sound effects, but nuance is important and timing is crucial. Doors are knocked hard or tapped softly. Footsteps may scamper with agitation, or amble slowly.
Both the general audience and the visually impaired are invited to attend the live broadcast in the center’s studio at 130 Enterprise Drive on Thursday, June 27, at 7 p.m. Seating is limited; reserve a space by contacting Lorraine Bottelli at 781-834-4400 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s no admission fee, but donations are appreciated.
Radio theater productions also give the audience a chance to meet some of the center’s dedicated volunteers. Relying entirely on volunteer readers, the service broadcasts 24 hours a day to 30,000 listeners statewide.
Edith Griffiths of Marshfield is one of those steady listeners who depend on the day-in, day-out efforts of volunteer readers to connect with the world of print.
“I could not do without it,” she said. At age 93, blind in one eye and suffering from macular degeneration, her memory is strong. “I can tell you what’s on from 8 in the morning until noon.”
Here’s the schedule devoted listener Griffiths has memorized: The Wall Street Journal at 8 a.m.; Boston Globe at 9 a.m.; Boston Herald at 10; Washington Post at 11; and New York Times at noon.
“Most of the people who read are angels of mercy,” she said. “That’s the way I feel. I really depend on it a lot. I do love the TIC. . . . I can’t say enough about it. They do so much good, give so much time, and present it in a lovely manner.”
Kay is one of those “angels,” reading from the Globe for an hour on Wednesday mornings since her retirement a couple of years ago.
“My partner and I read it together as a team and it’s one of my favorite times of the week,” she said. Two readers share the hour because “you need to take a breath between stories.”
Though not a fan, she throws in a sports story, recently reading one that focused on a controversial “big hit” in the Stanley Cup finals. “I don’t think it’s fair to listeners,” she said, “to read only the stories that would interest me.”
Listeners can hear the service’s dedicated readers via a TIC radio receiver, or access the service online at ticnetwork.org by clicking on the “listen now” button; recorded readings and podcasts also are available through the website. You can also call 781-834-5836 on your phone; or get a smartphone app. Members of Android nation using Amazon Alexa and Google Home are invited to command, “Alexa (or Hey Google), play radio station Talking Information Center!” For more information on the range of options, see the website.
Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2 @gmail.com.