Fifth-graders Create 1940s Radio Show
Students research, portray ‘Wheeling change makers’
Using the Internet for research and their mini-iPads to write scripts, 16 fifth-graders at Wheeling Country Day School produced and recorded an old-fashioned radio program, the kind their grandparents and great-grandparents listened to for entertainment in the early 20th century.
The Mid-day Radio Hour on the fictional WWCD radio station featured the show titled “Meet the Change Makers” and came complete with an announcer, a host, Foley sound effects, guest interviews and even an original commercial jingle, all performed live before a “studio” audience — parents, teachers and the school’s younger students — in the school gym on Tuesday.
The project was spearheaded by Tim Thompson, Oglebay Institute Towngate Theatre director, who teaches drama at Country Day through an Elizabeth Stifel Kline Foundation grant. He said he saw a similar project by eighth-graders in Washington, Pa.
“I was fascinated with the fact they were doing a radio show. It’s like a play on the radio,” Thompson told the audience Tuesday. The integration of other disciplines also intrigued him. It wasn’t just drama; it included writing, history, social studies and music.
He and Head of School Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini knew it was the perfect fit for WCDS.
“We are very innovative here. We think outside the box,” Thompson said, adding the independent school does not have to conform to strict class periods or schedules, making it easier to put the show together.
Said fifth-grade social studies teacher Joe Jividen: “We were able to be flexible with the school schedule to maximize the learning experience.” He worked with the students to whittle down the interview subjects. They chose: Capitol Theatre architect Charles W. Bates; Wheeling Symphony founder Eleanor Caldwell, and her sister, Wheeling Country Day School founder, Margaret Holloway; Ernest Moore “E.M.” Viquesney, sculptor of the American Doughboy statue at Wheeling Park; stars of the WWVA Jamboree Doc and Chickie Williams; and the infamous Wheeling gangster, “Big Bill” Lias.
The students broke into small groups to research their subjects and write the interviews under the guidance of Jividen and fifth-grade teacher Bridget Rutherford. They worked with local actor and WCDS alum Daniel Loh on character development.
“I’ve never seen engagement so high in a group of fifth-graders,” Jividen said.
“The process can be one of the most enjoyable things,” Thompson said. “I am very, very proud of this, very very impressed with their work.”
Hofreuter-Landini said the project fit right in with the ideals presented in the documentary film “Most Likely to Succeed,” which WCDS screened for the community earlier this year.
“After the excitement of watching and developing ideas from ‘Most Likely to Succeed,’ I was thrilled to see us do a project without regard to school schedules, curriculum benchmarks and segregated learning.”
Addressing the young audience prior to the show, Thompson explained that radio was the TV of the early 20th century.
“That was your basic social media. People would sit around the radio and listen to shows,” Thompson said.
The show began with the announcer, played by Jack Poffenbarger, welcoming “listeners” and the “studio” audience to the Oct. 19, 1945, edition of The Mid-day Radio Hour. He then introduced the host, John Harrington, played by Deuce Figaretti, who conducted all of the interviews.
Gus Gilbert and K’Saun Walker provided sound effects in the form of shoes walking and doors opening and shutting as the guests entered and exited the studio, while Walker also manned the “applause” sign.
Bates was the first guest, portrayed by Richard Pusz. He noted the Capitol cost $1 million to build, seated 2,400, and was the biggest theater in the state at the time of its opening on Nov. 29, 1928.
Payton Storch played Caldwell, who related that the symphony was formed on June 7, 1929, and the first performance was on June 30. Caldwell’s interview was accompanied by a few bars of “St. Louis Blues” performed by Wesley Palmer on piano and Jack Poffenbarger on clarinet.
Holloway was portrayed by Sophie Monk, who brought along students played by Jean Kalb, Mela Baranik, Caitlin Bedway and Poffenbarger.
Viquesney was portrayed by Andrew Skadra, complete with a French accent. He said he wanted his doughboy statue to be placed in Wheeling Park so children “could recognize the spirit of the American doughboys.”
Palmer played Doc Williams while Pitter Pat Jeffers played Chickie. Their interview was upbeat and performed with country accents. Doc noted he turned down a job with the Grand Ole Opry to stay in Wheeling because he loved it here so much.
Next was a “word from the sponsor,” Marsh Wheeling Stogies. The commercial was performed a capella by Figaretti, with Skadra and Palmer backing him up. The students worked on the jingle with WCDS music teacher Anthony Panebianco.
Finally, it was time for Lias, played by Gideon Titus-Glover, who was accompanied by body guards played by Emma McFarland and Alaina Bell. The interview wasn’t very productive, however, because Lias gave few straight answers, and his body guards repeatedly threatened Harrington. The sounds of a gun shot and breaking glass cut the interview short.
Hofreuter-Landini said the school plans to provide a recording of the show to families of the “change makers.”