ZBS: Forty years of classic radio drama

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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