ZBS: Forty years of classic radio drama

in Daily Programme

by Elrik Merlin on Wednesday, 1 February, 2012

ZBS: Forty years of classic radio drama

Engineer Bobby Bielecki at work in the ZBS studio in 1973 (ZBS)

Many listeners will be familiar with ZBS Foundation from our weekly ZBS Radio Hour that goes out every Saturday (writes Elrik Merlin).

Their story, however, is a long one, that started back in 1970 when a group of people got together in up-state New York and set up a recording studio, on a farm, on an island in the middle of a river.

They began, calling themselves “ZBS Media” (which, one presumes, was a pun on “CBS”), by making promotional discs for record companies — notably Warner/Reprise. They made a series of “Warner/Reprise Radio Show” albums, introducing new releases to radio DJs. These discs consisted of short audio dramas woven around the records, with offbeat stories and strange, quirky characters — and utterly, utterly original.

They had the idea — or rather, I suspect that Tom Lopez, one of the founders, had the idea — of making a radio drama series around these unique voices, and the result was the radio serial, The Fourth Tower of Inverness, released in 1972 — 40 years ago this year — which was heard on stations across the US, and ultimately beyond. When we started running the ZBS Radio Hour a couple of years ago on Radio Riel, this was the series we started with — after all, it was where ZBS radio productions began. The story managed to combine 50s music, Hindu mythology, spirituality and humour in a glorious stereo entertainment. When I first heard the tapes a friend (who played a part in the series) came back from the States with, I had never heard anything like it.

Tom had been inspired to get into radio drama by a gentleman called Erik Bauersfeld during his time at the ground-breaking publicly-supported Pacifica radio station KPFA in Berkeley — and you will be hearing more about Erik very shortly.

ZBS went on to produce many radio series — they are still at it today — and the tales are as lively, immersive and wacky now as they were 40 years ago. We feel very privileged to bring them to you every week.

And if you like what you hear, and would like to own the stories yourself, just wander over to the ZBS web site at http://zbs.org and take a look — and a listen.

And now, the local newspaper up there in the Adirondacks, the Post-Star, has publish a fascinating article on Tom and the story of ZBS. You can read it here and learn a little more of their history.

Many thanks, Tom, to you and your friends, for bringing us such wonderful stories for over four decades.


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