For WHRW ’s radio theatre department, the curtain never rises.
The station kicked off its semesterlong series of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” last Friday on 90.5 FM, and will broadcast one episode from the play each week throughout the semester. Radio theatre, sometimes referred to as radio drama, is the art of performing acts, stories or even full-length musicals to be broadcast solely on the radio. There’s no set and no costumes, so it’s up to the listener to imagine many of the familiar elements of theatre.
Ron Gunczler, a senior double-majoring in computer science and philosophy, is the director of the department. Gunczler previously served as the international music director at WHRW. In his new role, Gunczler said he wants to provide Binghamton University performing arts majors with a creative outlet and an experience to hone their craft in a professional setting.
“I know how competitive theatre is because my dad is an actor,” Gunczler said. “That world is brutal and I want to provide theatre students with an edge.”
Every Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., the radio theatre department will perform a dramatic reading of a section of Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
“I have been doing radio for three years and it’s probably the community that I am closest to,” Gunczler said.
Gunczler said he is passionate about performing arts and that he chose this play specifically after finding a book containing the original radio scripts of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in a thrift shop.
“The best satire is satire that is pointed at human nature that anybody, anytime can get, and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is one of those,” Gunczler said. “It’s timeless.”
After spending countless hours recruiting and preparing a dynamic ensemble of undergraduate BU students and local community members — all varying in age and in their experience with radio — Gunczler dealt with the last-minute complications inherent in radio theatre, including lead voice actors dropping out and having to recast those roles.
“I loved how [the actors] rolled with things,” Gunczler said. “It’s exactly what I was hoping to see, the actors having fun, adapting on the fly and for listeners to be able to hear that.”
Joe Gabriel, ‘83, a Binghamton community member and member of WHRW, reads the part of Arthur Dent, a man from England who embarks on a journey with his friend Ford Prefect as they travel across the universe, hitchhiking from one alien spacecraft to another.
“I just made up the [English] accent that I went with on the fly,” Gabriel said. “I have to continue honing my craft, I guess.”
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” began as a radio series on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, and then was published as a book in 1979, adapted by Adams, who created the original play.
Cassandra Joseph, an undeclared freshman, said she prepared for her role as Lady Cynthia Fitzmelton by listening to the original radio performance of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
“[The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] gets very deep and philosophical and addresses a lot of existential questions while still being humorous, dynamic and engaging as a work of fiction,” Joseph said. “I am a huge fan of the sci-fi genre as a whole, there is something so fantastical about imagining what the future will be like.”
Gunczler said he is passionate about revitalizing the radio theatre department and setting it up for success in the future.
“I am hoping to set up infrastructure so that when I graduate, [the radio theatre department] will have the same stability that I am trying to bring to it,” he said.