The Granite City Radio Theatre is on the air in St. Cloud
The Granite City Radio Theatre radio variety show is halfway through its 11th season of bringing music, comedy and radio drama to the airwaves around St. Cloud.
ST. CLOUD — Four times a year, inside Pioneer Place on Fifth in St. Cloud, one can experience the golden age of radio while still firmly in the 21st century.
"It's this fun, old-school, new-school situation," said Jeff Carmack, arts and cultural heritage producer for KVSC 88.1 FM in St. Cloud, a college and community radio station based at St. Cloud State University. "It is theater of the mind."
The Granite City Radio Theatre got its start in 2012, and is in the middle of its 11th season. Its next show is 7:30 p.m. March 15, both on air and in person at the Pioneer Place.
"It is a variety show; there are a variety of things that go on," Carmack said.
Each show has a special musical guest who plays with the show's house band, Collective Unconscious . Carmack said artists from various musical genres have taken the stage over the years and come from across the state.
"They have a really good time," Carmack said. "We try to represent most of Minnesota."
Joining the musical entertainment are various comedic skits written and performed by St. Cloud State graduates and entertainers Jay Terry, Heather Mastromarco and Mackenzie Lahren. Terry also doubles as the show's host. A trivia contest, led by Dave Barth, brings members of the community to the stage, along with more laughs.
"We try to keep it fun," Carmack said. "That is the big draw, the success there."
Probably the most unique aspect of the Granite City Radio Theatre is the ongoing serial radio drama " Shades Brigade ." Written by Eric Webster and acted by a group of performers including Webster, Lee Adams, Dave Gangler and Shanan Custer, the show takes the audience on a thrilling and fun ride through pre-World War II covert missions.
"It is good storytelling. It is funny and definitely over the top," Carmack said.
"Shades Brigade" has been part of Granite City Radio Theatre from its earliest days and continues to be a popular draw.
"Each show is like an episode, and each episode has, like, three acts," Carmack said. "There are a lot of cliffhangers. You have to tune in next time to hear what happens."
All together the pieces create a unique entertainment opportunity, whether you are in the audience or listening on the radio.
"You've got the music, you've got the drama, you've got the comedy," Carmack said.
This fun show might not even exist if it wasn't for Minnesota voters back in 2008. That was the year the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment was passed, which dedicated an increase to the state's sales tax to environmental and cultural programs.
KVSC became one of the arts organizations that benefited from the amendment, and the radio show is one of the programs that is provided funding by the law's passage.
"It makes things like this available" to the public at an affordable cost, Carmack said.
The idea to stage a radio drama came from Carmack's experience with the Veranda Variety Hour at the Pioneer Place. Two years into Carmack working as the arts and cultural producer, he and others involved with the variety show thought it would be entertaining to bring the show to the radio. A grant was written to the Legacy Fund and awarded, giving birth to the Granite City Radio Theatre.
"The first year there was trial and error," Carmack said. "Some things worked, some things didn't."
One of the issues worked out was just how many shows there should be. The decision was made to have four shows a year, one per quarter.
Carmack said it takes a lot of work to put together one show and doing it weekly or even monthly would have been too much for part-time staff. Students from St. Cloud State help run things behind the scenes.
"It became very, very popular and people loved it," Carmack said.
As with so many in-person events, the pandemic was a challenge for the radio show, but one it was able to overcome. Only a few days before things started to shut down in March 2020, the radio show had put on its March 11 program. It would be the last show in front of an audience for more than a year.
"We were the last show at the Pioneer Place" before the pandemic closed it down, Carmack said.
Luckily the show was able to go on a few months later, but inside the closed and dark Pioneer Place. All the in-person acts and staff had to be distanced and masked while "Shades Brigade" actors pre-recorded their acts. The lights at the theater had to stay off, so members of the public wouldn't try to come in.
"There was no audience," Carmack said. "All of St. Cloud was dark."
The show only missed one episode during the pandemic, and it was still able to get its full grant funding. By June 2021, with the Season 9 series finale, the radio show was back to normal, with an audience in their seats.
"Now we are back in full force," Carmack said.
There are many ways to tune into the show. Those who live within 70 miles of St. Cloud can tune in on KVSC 88.1 FM, or those living around the Twin Cities can turned their radio dial to KMOJ 89.9 FM.
You can also listen live from the KVSC website or smartphone app. Each show is uploaded to the station's website within hours of airing. And if you want to see the show in person, tickets can be purchased at Pioneer Place.
Carmack believes radio theater is a unique entertainment experience that isn't necessarily a visual medium. Instead, the mind takes over.
"You let it take over your imagination," Carmack said. "Your imagination, mind helps fill in the blanks. You can visualize the whole thing."
He urges people to give the show a chance. Old episodes also can be found on the radio station's website . You might just find yourself hooked.
"You put this on and it fills your brain with stories, adventure and laughter," Carmack said. "It is a strange, fun time. I encourage people to listen."