RuyaSonic Radio Script Notes
Tony "Sparx" Palermo
Notes regarding several of the radio programs created by
Tony "Sparx" Palermo for his own productions and workshops including
the Museum of Television &
Radio's Saturday family
Re-creating Radio series.
NOTE: These scripts and scores are available for purchase
and downloading through The
RuyaSonic.com Depot. Royalties are scaled for the venue
You can also see descriptions of all my available
Radio Drama Workshop scripts.
Grim Scary Tales -
Crusade of Terror!
An original radio drama written & scored by
Tony "Sparx" Palermo
Grim Scary Tales is an original horror anthology
series similar to Lights Out or Inner Sanctum.
This episode, “Crusade of Terror!,” takes place in Turkey in
1204 A.D. with Crusaders conquering a city, but finding
something truly terrifying in the caverns below. The series
itself is set in 1955, so the horror is not as gruesome as
contemporary films or fiction. In a nice twist, the story
serves as a subtle allegory for the political “witch-hunts”
of the McCarthy-era.
This program is a mid-1950s horror anthology
written especially for the MT&R Re-creating Radio workshop.
The genre, music, sound effects, and themes are all
period-authentic. What's more, the series itself has a back
story that's also an education in radio drama.
In the mid-1950s, network radio was dying because
television was luring away the game shows, sitcoms and
dramas--and their big audiences. That left radio open to
more “eccentric” programs--things that you couldn't do on TV
such as horror and science fiction. These genres were also
in vogue with the emerging teenage culture of the time. So
our program is a contemporary of those irony-filled E.C.
comic books such as Weird Science and Tales from
the Crypt, as well as movies like Creature from the
Black Lagoon and The Thing.
Our fictional series, Grim Scary Tales is what was
called a “sustaining” show--meaning it was being produced by
the network without a commercial sponsor. Orson
Welles’ famous 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio drama was also
a sustaining show--which sparked such ratings that
Campbell’s Soup immediately signed on. Sustaining shows
often tackled controversial subjects and were much artier
than sponsored shows since they were free from advertiser
meddling or ratings anxiety. This freedom was attractive to
radio dramatists and produced interesting programs. However,
as desirable as artistic freedom may appear, most radio
shows aspired to being sponsored, since the alternative was
low budgets and eventual cancellation.
So, our fictional producer of Grim Scary Tales is
trying desperately to turn his sustaining program into a
sponsored one. Luckily, he has talked the makers of Rid-Go,
a rat poison, into a trial sponsorship. Rid-Go has little
need for radio advertising, however they will sponsor the
show, on the condition the program deal with rats and
motivate listeners to rush out and buy Rid-Go rat poison.
They not only want to run a commercial, they want the whole
show to be a commercial for Rid-Go.
Our fictional radio writer agrees to do a rat-themed
horror story and decides to use the Bubonic Plague, which
was carried by rats, as an angle. Since Biblical epics and
Knights of the Round Table films were popular in the
mid-1950s, he decides to write a story about Crusaders
bringing plague-ridden rats back to Europe from the Middle
East. In Medieval times, witches were burned at the stake,
so there are some nice horror elements already available
here. But witches bring to mind the anti-Communist “witch
hunts” of the McCarthy-era. Our fictional 1955 writer--and
let's go ahead and make him a blacklisted screenwriter
slaving for a low paying “sustaining” show--decides to write
a parable about Senator Joe McCarthy getting a divine
comeuppance. This inspires the writer to add a political
subtext to this tale about rats. So he writes a story where
you have a zealous despot torturing confessions out of
“un-believers”, burning a lying politician at the stake, and
forcing people to “rat” on their friends. The Crusaders even
discover a “long, black list of names, written in
blood--the names of the damned!” Our writer concocts a
horror drama that ties all these elements together with the
highly infectious Bubonic plague (payback for intolerance
and persecution) and of course, the all-important rats that
Rid-Go insisted upon.
So, in the Grim Scary Tales episode, “Crusade of
Terror!” we have a scarifying show with ghouls and demons
and caverns and curses; a struggling radio producer bending
to a sponsor's wishes; a black-listed writer with an ax to
grind; and the political damnation of a persecuting zealot.
“Crusade of Terror!” relies heavily upon mood music
playing underneath the dialogue and sound effects. I
composed the music to sustain a sense of dread--which is key
to producing horror. In keeping with the 1955 setting
of the series, the instruments used are all authentic--there
are no synthesizers here, but that is a real
(period-authentic) Theremin playing the Grim Scary Tales
theme at the beginning and end of the show.
As a radio dramatist, I wrote the script with the music
in mind, intending to create a story that was truly scary
and not just a rehash of vampires, werewolves and other
horror clichés that, by endless repetition, have lost much
of their power to frighten. At the same time, I wrote a
drama with 1950s levels of horror, since contemporary horror
levels of gore would not be suitable for a family workshop.
I don't think students performing the show will be
frightened, but listening to it may be another story.
Radio drama is a perfect medium for horror. I hope you enjoy
telling this “grim, scary tale” as much as I did creating
NOTE: There is another Grim Scary Tales episode,
called "The Pirate's Curse" It is set in
1720 and deals with Pirates finding the fountain of youth
and it's terrible secret on the lost continent of Atlantis.
Life's Little Ups & Downs
An original radio drama written & scored by
Tony "Sparx" Palermo
Life’s Little Ups & Downs is an original
1953-style soap-opera similar to The Guiding Light
and Young Widder Brown. In this episode, Barbara
Jones copes with her brother Raymond’s strange illness. In a
clever use of radio, we venture inside Raymond’s head to
re-live his Safari plane crash and jungle ordeal. Meanwhile,
Barbara’s arch-nemesis, Audrey Snead, plots revenge, and a
strange package arrives. Our lively show features classic
soap-opera organ and several commercials for “Klenso--the
modern way to clean.”
A short script, excerpted from this show is available at
in the Adobe PDF format. You'll need the free
Acrobat reader to view or print that PDF file. You can
also download and listen to a short recording of
Life's Little Ups & Downs, as a three-minute MP3 clip.
[1.7 Mb] This clip is very popular for how it demonstrates
the imaginative range of audio theatre.
In this Radio workshop, we will produce a daytime serial.
These were radio shows that ran Monday through Friday with a
continuing story and were often sponsored by detergent and
soap companies. That's why they were called soap operas.
Like a musical opera, these shows were usually sentimental
with exaggerated stories based around women characters,
their heartaches and problems. On radio these shows ran 28
years, from 1932 to 1960, but some of them moved to
television in the 1950s. Another World, General
Hospital, and One Life to Live are some of
the current popular soaps that were created by the same
people who produced and wrote daytime serials for radio.
Millions faithfully listened to soap operas, which
allowed them to live other lives and learn from others’
misfortune, and there was plenty to learn from. With all the
divorces, betrayals and sudden illnesses, radio soap operas
had so much heartache that we had to lighten up our workshop
soap to keep it from being too depressing, but also to give
the sound effects department more to do.
Radio soap operas had few sound effects. It was mostly
just doorbells, telephones, pouring lemonade and baking
cookies. Our program contains the traditional soap opera
elements of a sudden illness, some plotting enemies and
cookie baking, but we also have a radio montage of a man
remembering a jungle ordeal--or is just a nightmare? The
result will be a bit comic, but not all soap operas were
humorless and that's why our soap opera is called Life’s
Little Ups and Downs.
It's easy to laugh at the exaggerated situations and
music in a soap opera, but that is not our intention here.
We have a tragic story to which we are adding some adventure
and that could be tricky to pull off. We will play our story
straight and not make fun of the characters.
Life’s Little Ups and Downs
- Back story
Our program, now in its eighth year, takes place in the
quiet town of Seville, population 10,000-- “a town not much
different than your own”, where everybody has at least heard
of everybody else. The year is 1953. Our story concerns
Barbara Jones, age 30, her family, friends and enemies.
When in high school, Barbara (then Barbara Brown), was
engaged to Sterling Wood. Her best friend, Audrey Snead,
helped them elope to New River City. Barbara and
Sterling were secretly married, but “something” happened and
Barbara came home alone. Sterling disappeared and was never
heard of again.
Soon afterwards, Barbara’s house burned down, killing her
parents, but sparing Barbara, her brother- Raymond Brown,
and dog, Fido. They went to live with Uncle Newton
MacGillicuddy, who'd won the Irish sweepstakes, but didn't
let anyone in town know, including his family.
After high school, Barbara got a job at Kay's bakery.
Audrey was engaged to Adam Hamilton, Barbara’s next door
neighbor. For Audrey’s wedding, Barbara baked the wedding
cake herself. But to everyone's horror, Adam choked on the
cake at the wedding banquet and died. To worsen matters, the
hearse bearing Adam's body was stolen and the body was never
recovered. Audrey harbors an intense hatred of Barbara to
this day and has vowed to destroy her.
Barbara went to stenographer school and became a court
reporter. That's where she met Sam Jones, who was on trial
for drunk driving. Sam was very charming and very sorry for
his offense--Barbara liked his humility. He was acquitted
when the arresting officer couldn't appear in court.
After a brief courtship, Barbara and Sam were married and
bought a house. Barbara had a son, Jimmy, now ten years old,
and a daughter Sally, seven. Sam is a workaholic at
“the office” where his young secretary, Janie Allen, seems
to have many problems. The Jones’ next-door neighbor is
Susan Foley, the local door-to-door cosmetics saleslady.
Susan was widowed when her fireman husband died in a blaze
five years ago. Susan has a teen-age daughter named Mona,
who has had some trouble at school. Barbara and Susan became
fast friends. Susan is a mystery fan and suspects
everything. What's more, she's secretly having an affair
with Dr. Jackson Debbs, head internist at Seville Memorial
Three years ago, Uncle Newton told Raymond of the secret
fortune. Raymond stole some money, and married Gloria
Meadows, a hostess at The Hi-Hat nightclub. A year later,
Uncle Newton discovered the theft and confronted Raymond,
who quickly left town on a Safari--leaving Gloria behind.
Raymond’s plane crashed in “the Jungle” two years ago and he
was presumed dead. In the meantime, Uncle Newton died and
Gloria had gotten a job at a realty company and married her
boss, Steve Adkins.
Last year, on what would have been her 10th wedding
anniversary, Audrey Snead tried to run down Barbara at a
school crosswalk. Instead, she crashed her car and was
paralyzed from the waist down. She became a manicurist
at the Jo-Dee Beauty Salon, where she was befriended by
Gloria Brown, who took pity on her. Audrey is taking
advantage of Gloria to exact her revenge on Barbara.
Raymond Brown was recently discovered alive after two
years in the jungle and returned to Seville. Barbara was
very happy to be reunited with her brother, but Gloria was
not. Because Raymond wasn't dead, Gloria's marriage to Steve
Adkins was annulled and she reluctantly returned to Raymond.
They didn't get along, partly due to Raymond’s difficulty in
adjusting to normal life after his terrible jungle ordeal.
Just last month Raymond was caught at the apartment of
Harriet Appleby, Seville's town librarian. Audrey tipped
Gloria off, who caught him and sued for divorce--then,
somehow, she found out about the secret fortune. Gloria
tried to stop the divorce proceedings, but he refused.
Lately, Raymond has become ill and is in the hospital.
Life’s Little Ups and Downs
- Synopsis for Episode #1829
As our current episode begins, Barbara Jones is visiting
her brother, Raymond Brown, in the hospital. Dr. Jackson
Debbs explains that Raymond is now catatonic, suffering from
some unknown disease. Raymond can’t speak, but we learn of
his jungle ordeal as he vividly remembers it. Barbara’s 10
year-old son, Jimmy calls to talk to Uncle Raymond.
Meanwhile, at the Jo-Dee beauty salon,
manicurist/invalid, Audrey Snead and Gloria Brown are
plotting to have Raymond committed to an insane asylum and
Gloria declared his legal representative for the secret
inheritance. Gloria pledges to help Audrey pay for an
operation that will allow her to walk again. Audrey sobs as
she recalls how Barbara baked the wedding cake that her
groom, Adam, choked to death on.
Meanwhile, Barbara is baking cookies with her best
friend, Susan Foley. They discuss the seriousness of
Raymond’s illness and Susan wonders if insanity runs in the
family. Barbara gets another mysterious phone call from some
man who wants to see her. She's very secretive about this
and won't even share it with Susan. A strange package
arrives at the house, containing a jungle idol. Barbara
pricks her finger on a pin sticking out of the idol and
The next morning, Barbara’s husband Sam awakens her.
Barbara is troubled by a nightmare. As Sam leaves, Barbara
fears Sam is taking a little too much interest in his
secretary, Janie, and her problems.
Rick Lowell - Private Eye
The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of (Parts
An original radio drama series written & scored by
Tony "Sparx" Palermo
Rick Lowell - Private Eye is an original
1940s-style detective drama series similar to The
Adventures of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. This is a three part series of
20 minute episodes where Rick searches for
the movie-prop of The Maltese Falcon movie and runs
into Nazi agents, crooked dames, snooty art dealers, actors
playing English detectives, and dangerous gangsters. This
exciting and often humorous show is packed with classic
1940s Los Angeles settings, “hard-boiled” dialogue, and
colorful characters. It examines the war time hysteria of
early 1942 together with a deadly mix of screen fantasy and
real crime. The musical score is in the tough orchestral
style of 1940s detective films.
This three-part Rick Lowell series is called “The
Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” which, besides being a
paraphrase from William Shakespeare's The Tempest, is
also the final line of The Maltese Falcon, the1941
detective movie classic starring Humphrey Bogart. In that
film, several crooks seek a foot high statue of a falcon
made of solid gold and covered with rare jewels. Several
characters get killed over this Maltese Falcon statue. Rent
the video. It's a marvelous film version of the classic
detective novel by Dashiell Hammett.
This Rick Lowell series is related to The
Maltese Falcon, except Rick is trying to find the prop
man who worked on the Falcon movie. As it turns out,
the prop falcon has disappeared and people are after it,
thinking it's the real Maltese Falcon--worth up to a million
dollars. Our story opens in February 1942, just after the
movie has closed and World War II has begun. This is a Los
Angeles rife with anti-Japanese paranoia, blackouts, and
fears of imminent air raids--a time not unlike our own.
In the first episode, Rick Lowell is hired by Alice Reese
to find her husband, Lyndon Reese, the prop man from The
Maltese Falcon. After tangling with some gangsters,
Lowell visits a movie set at the Warner Brothers studio
for a "golden age" British detective film, Inspector
Rufflethorpe to the Rescue--a scene from which is
performed, much to Lowell's hard-boiled dismay. Between
takes, Lowell questions Reese's prop assistant and discovers
Lyndon had a girlfriend--actress Gladys George from the
While running down her address, Lowell researches the
Falcon story by visiting a snooty Beverly Hills antique
dealer--who questions Lowell's detecting skills. Tracking
down Lyndon's girlfriend, Rick finds her freshly murdered in
her Wilshire Boulevard apartment--just as somebody starts
pounding on the door--the police, the murderers, thugs?
While there, Lowell gets a phone call from the victim's
answering service with the message, “Time to deal. Bring
your half at 9 p.m.” He searches the apartment and finds a
package containing...a Maltese Falcon prop and a baggage
claim ticket from Union Station, downtown. As he's leaving
her building, a car pulls up and rains lead on Lowell.
Episode one ends there with a cliffhanger.
Episode two introduces the mysterious Myrna Stanton, a
tall redhead--trying to broker a Maltese Falcon. Rick
tangles with a murderous thug, gets double crossed, and
winds up at a prize-fight where he meets an expatriate
German film producer, who may or may not be a
Nazi-sympathizer. Later, Rick is abducted and taken to a
crooked nightclub in the "Chiseltown" district, where he is
reunited with that red-headed stick of dynamite, Myrna and
her gangster friend, Johnny Valletta. The tables are
turned--a couple of times--as Rick plunges into a gun fight
with Valletta's gang for another cliffhanger ending.
Episode three opens with Rick and Myrna on the run. After
framing Valletta for Gladys' murder, they head out to a
cottage in the Hollywood Hills only to be surprised by
Lyndon Reese, the missing movie prop man. Allegiances flip
flop several more times as Rick ends up at the Warners prop
house with plenty of gangsters, Nazis, double and
triple-crosses, and a Japanese air raid in a fatal
finale--fatal for some characters.
The Rick Lowell - Private Eye shows are especially
popular with adults and teenagers, but pre-teens like it
too. Parents get a big kick out of kids spouting hard-boiled
dialogue such as the femme fatale saying "Nazis? What do
Nazis want with me?" answered by "It ain't a
The Twitshyre Murder Case
Inspector Rufflethorpe is a 1938-style mystery
drama similar to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
This program is a classic British detective story, the type
set in an English manor--with a fresh corpse and long list
of eccentric suspects. In this episode, "The Twitshyre
Murder Case," Inspector Rufflethorpe of Scotland Yard, and
his assistant, Sgt. Frimly are called to a country manor in
Margate to investigate the mysterious death of Lord
Archibald Farquhar-Bensington. There's a ghostly
séance, a series of baffling murders, and a monument to
deductive logic when the culprit is finally unmasked.
This style of "whodunit" mystery was very popular from
1910 to 1940, when the American "hardboiled" detective story
supplanted it in print, film, and on radio. While Agatha
Christie's novels continue to be popular today, these
drawing room murder-mysteries have largely disappeared.
Inspector Rufflethorpe affectionately revels in the
clichés of the genre—without resorting to parody. My scripts
never make fun of the programs of the past and Inspector
Rufflethorpe is no exception, however preposterous its
plot twists may be.
A sub-genre of the "Golden Age" detective story was the
puzzling "locked-room murder"— where
the victim is in a locked room. A murder, most foul, is
committed, and yet, when the room is opened, the murderer is
gone! Novelist and radio dramatist, John Dickson Carr
specialized in this style and I've created a doozy of a plot
for "The Twitshyre Murder Case." In classic radio
fashion, we first learn of the crime and later re-enact
it--with appropriate sound effects--as the amazing solution
At Twitshyre Manor, Detective-Inspector Rufflethorpe
encounters a variety of colorful suspects. The names of the
characters give a special flavor to this style of mystery;
Lady Margaret Farquhar-Bensington, Colonel Cuthbert T.
Frothingham, the mysterious Countess Valeska, Gretchen
Laytherly--a West End ingénue, her beau, Ralph Stellsmore;
the rakish personal secretary, Reginald Sklemsdale, and the
family solicitor, Kirwood Crumpton, Esq. In radio drama, you
must sketch characters quickly, and name and manner of
speech are the only tools available. With a properly
descriptive name, listeners can easily imagine the
characters--costume and all.
I was inspired to create Inspector Rufflethorpe
after reading hardboiled author, Raymond Chandler’s famous
1948 essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” where he gleefully
gores the carcass of English drawing room murders. Chandler
wrote snidely of ridiculous mystery novels with titles
like, "The Triple Petunia Murder Case" and “Death Wears
Yellow Garters.” I decided to add a Golden Age genre piece
into Part One of my own hardboiled Rick
Lowell – Private Eye series, “The Stuff That Dreams
are Made Of.” For Rick Lowell, I created a scene on a
Hollywood movie set for an “Inspector Rufflethorpe” Golden
Age-style film and then used it to dovetail Los Angeles' WW
II anti-Japanese paranoia into a ridiculous “least likely
suspect” trick where the script has been re-written to make
the Japanese gardener (on an English Estate!) the
This element was both funny and a meta-detective genre
slap because later in the "Stuff" series, the cynical, 1940s
tough guy detective winds up resorting to such Golden Age
clichés as ashes and a banded Egyptian cobra to solve his
own hardboiled mystery. The brief Inspector Rufflethorpe
scene was so much fun, I expanded it into a full length
program of its own—with any parodist elements removed.
Greetings from the Planet Killer
An original radio drama written/scored by
Tony "Sparx" Palermo
Blast-Off! is an original 1957-style science
fiction anthology series similar to Dimension X. This
episode, “Greetings from the Planet Killer,”
takes place 40,000 years in the future where females have
evolved into fierce space warriors. The show features
a spy mission to "Planet X," evil blob creatures, a doomsday
machine, a space battle and startling twist ending. The
electronic musical score is done entirely using 1950s-style
In our re-created radio-universe, this Blast-Off!
episode, “Greetings from the Planet Killer,” is being
broadcast just two months after the Soviet “Sputnik”
satellite was launched. The Cold War is in full swing, with
the Space Race just starting up.
“Greetings from the Planet Killer” is an example
of the “Space Opera” genre of science fiction--two fisted
good guys, an older scientist and a pretty girl meet
evil aliens intent on destroying the world, but this
particular story puts a unique spin on the genre. It is set
40,000 years in the future, where evolutionary changes have
resulted in a female-dominated society. The two-fisted good
guys are large, fierce female she-warriors while the males are
the weaker sex and assigned to lower-status positions such as medics and
advisors. The story is full of retro-futuristic lingo
about “electronic brains,” “proton-pistols,” and “visi-plates” as well as other
Sci-Fi staples such as blobby aliens and "Planet X."
Our heroine, Commander Tal, is first heard admitting guilt in the
destruction of the world. She then recalls the events
leading up to the catastrophe. In flashback, we see
Commander Tal and her crew approaching Planet X to destroy
an alien super-weapon, but they are captured by the
evil Zoppulzians. Zopps are refrigerator-shaped quivering
masses of protoplasm who can form tentacles at will. They
butcher most of Tal’s crew and torture Dr. Kriov, the male
medic. To test their weapon, they subject Tal and young
nurse Lore to radiation. However, the Zopps begin melting.
Discovering this, Central Command orders Tal to tow the
giant space craft/weapon to their home base, where disaster
follows when the device is used to destroy a Zopp invasion
force, but then explodes in a nuclear holocaust that incinerates the
As her flashback ends, Tal’s science-robot translates
memory banks from the alien spacecraft and they discover its
makers were “hideous” TWO LEGGED beings. A taped message is
played back identifying the “Children of the Earth” as the
monsters who unleashed this doomsday weapon on these
unsuspecting, but hardly innocent aliens.
The "evil" doomsday space-craft is actually a 1950s-90s
space probe which traveled for 40,000 years to arrive at the
nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. Once power was supplied
to it, the probe resumed its programmed tasks--drilling a
core sample and scooping up rocks. The craft only appears
huge and deadly because the aliens in the story are tiny--by
This is a precautionary tale about using nuclear power in
space probes, the danger of the arms race and even works as a parable about letting children play with guns.
The musical score keeps to vintage mid-1950s “electronic
tonalities” using a Theremin and other early
synthesizer-type sounds. The cues follow the lead of the
1956 film, Forbidden Planet, with collections of
“space noises” and few recognizable musical themes. However,
I do model portions of the score after Bernard Herrmann’s
scary 1951 space soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood
Still. Science fiction sound effects are difficult to
produce manually, so by having plenty of space sounds in the
score, it enhances the outer space atmosphere and helps depict the
strange planet-scapes and alien laboratories.
For dialogue, I rely on a telephone filter to mimic space
suit radios and use a reverb to portray Zopp telepathy. The
Zopps also speak in a blubbery way by having the actors
flick their lips with their fingers as they talk. The robot
voice can be through a filter mic or an actor imitating an stiff,
monotonic robot. Here's a link to
information on a variety of
ways to produce the filtered voice effect
I used female space warriors to give my classic-based repertoire its first women action characters. Most old
radio genres (Westerns, Detective Shows, Super-heroes)
excluded women from powerful or exciting roles. Whereas a
science fiction show can do anything and so, our star is a
female--although, not human. The entire reversing of men's
and women's roles in the story is actually a red-herring to
distract the audience from realizing the characters are not
from the Earth. The Zopps and the robot are un-sexed.
Science fiction is often a horror story that substitutes
technology for the supernatural. I've treated it here as a
scary action show that tackles important ideas: (nuclear
power, sexism, Pandora's Box, the U2 incident, Communist
infiltrators, the Cuban Missile Crisis, terrorists spies, etc) in a science fiction
style that is so old it is new, especially to young people.
The program was envisioned for a Jet Propulsion
Laboratory workshop to illustrate how teachers can use radio
drama to teach science. A ten-minute version of this show,
Tales of Outer Space,
was derived from the full-length Blast Off! script for use in shorter
A Christmas Carol
written by Charles Dickens and adapted & scored by
Tony "Sparx" Palermo
NOTE: My adaptation and pre-recorded musical score
CD are available for other groups to perform. I offer a
60-minute version that is very complete, and makes full use
of Dickens' Victorian dialogue, and also a
40-minute version that omits several minor scenes (the
businessmen, the rag and bone shop, the covered corpse),
trims the scenes of Nephew Fred's party and the boy told to
buy the prize turkey, and has simpler renderings of Dickens'
for more information.
My radio adaptation of A Christmas Carol restores
this oft-told tale to its source in Charles Dickens’ 1843
novel. In the 160-odd years since this story appeared, it
has been bowdlerized and cut to fit the conventions of the
day--resulting in widespread mis-perceptions and
simplifications of its true meaning. Most people are only
familiar with second-hand retellings and any accusations of
triteness and cliché against this story are most likely
attributable to poor adaptations.
With this in mind, I've endeavored to create a version
that is both faithful and fresh. The dialogue is
nearly verbatim from Dickens' text, however the emphasis and
psychological shadings are my own as I sought to reinforce
Dickens' original message. This "Ghost Story of Christmas"
is particularly well suited to the medium of radio--where
the audience's imagination provides an unlimited special
effects budget. Please take note of my intentions when
producing this script.
Charles Dickens's major literary themes were memory and
forgiveness. He believed that through experiencing the joy
and sorrow of memory, you could learn to live properly in
this world. Accordingly, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge's
redemption is carried out by memory, example, and fear.
Scrooge has often been mistakenly presented as an evil
man with no redeeming characteristics who suddenly gets
converted--overnight! That perception has been fostered in
many of the film and animated versions produced over the
years and often results in a rather boring fable for
children. However, this instant redemption--what critics
call “the Scrooge problem,” can be overcome. There must be
motivation for Scrooge's miserly behavior and he must be
permitted to change little by little, so the final
conversion isn't totally unbelievable. The elements of a
convincing transformation are in Dickens' book, but hardly
anywhere else. It boils down to understanding the character
First, Ebenezer Scrooge isn't just evil--that’s
one-dimensional. He's got a tough shell on the outside to
protect his squishy soft interior. He holds terrible,
anti-social attitudes, but has them for a reason. His
character is based upon Charles Dickens’ regrets for his own
personal behavior--in not being kind enough to his fellow
man, in not being charitable enough to unfortunates. In
fact, Scrooge's history is modeled upon Dickens’ early life.
Memory: Scrooge's Tortured Past
Through the Ghost of Christmas Past, we
learn that Scrooge was raised in the country, where they observed an
old-fashioned Christmas. He was sent away to a dismal boarding school and (like
Dickens) was left there over several Christmases by a remote and cruel father.
The schoolboy Scrooge sought escape in books---fantasies that protected him from
the cruel world--and took him out of it. He loved his sister, the angelic Fan,
who later died giving birth to Fred--which explains Scrooge's resentment for
his good-natured nephew.
The young Scrooge was taken out of school
and put to work in a warehouse run by the jolly Mr. Fezziwig--who serves as one
of several models for Scrooge's re-education. In the world of business,
Scrooge/Dickens sought financial success as a way to fortify himself from the
harsh realities of loneliness and a rapidly industrializing Britain.
Unfortunately, Scrooge's wish to make himself invulnerable also shut him off
from humanity--which is why his fiancée, Belle, breaks their engagement. This
further isolates him until he is entirely alone, “as secret and solitary as an
oyster.” His partnership with the similarly cold-blooded Jacob Marley
reinforces Scrooge's miserly ways.
However, despite the warped personality,
Scrooge retains a keen intelligence--he is a successful businessman--and has a
biting sense of humor. He doesn't see himself as evil--he’s just being
"practical." Here he personifies modernism and Puritanism--ideas firmly in place
when Dickens wrote the story. (Please note that British Puritans discouraged “pagan” Christmas
celebrations and had largely succeeded in eliminating the holiday as a feast of
any kind by 1800. Their social engineering of the workhouses separated families
and produced thousands of “orphans” when the parents were still alive. Dickens
sought to change society.)
Scrooge's Saving Grace
Humor is the key to my interpretation of Scrooge--not
jolly, but snide humor. I've left Dickens’ dialogue alone,
but I freshen it up by having Scrooge deliver it as biting
sarcastic jokes to show his sense of superiority and utter
disdain for the fools of the world. Think of him as a nasty,
wise-cracking cable TV pundit--smart, but twisted.
He's a self-made man who can’t see "making idle people
There's a hidden laugh behind his most famous lines. He's
thinks he's being clever when he asks the charity
seekers, “Are there no prisons?” He thinks he's being
funny describing how idiots should be “boiled with
their Christmas pudding and buried with a stake of holly
through their heart!” In my view, Scrooge doesn't believe
this in a literal sense. He's making mean-spirited
jokes--chortling to himself. I even have him laugh as he
delivers these outrageous pronouncements. Here, Scrooge is
being provocative and very entertaining--to himself. He's in
his own world. It's the self-satisfied smugness of somebody
who has it made. He's laughing all the way to the bank.
Scrooge's ill-humor is a way to leaven his
misanthropy--otherwise he comes off as a monster--someone
beyond hope. However, that's just the way many adaptations
portray Scrooge--as evil incarnate. The trouble is, the
harder you make Scrooge appear, the more unconvincing his
eventual conversion becomes--the "Scrooge Problem".
The "Wicked Scrooge" approach ignores Dickens'
themes of memory and forgiveness. Scrooge knows the
difference between right and wrong, but feels contempt for
those that don't share his values of thrift and
practicality--so he lampoons the "losers" with self
congratulating put-downs. Think of Scrooge as a smarty-pants
who finds himself endlessly clever. In my view, if Scrooge
has a sense of humor, then he is human--and therefore, has a
possibility of redemption. The various ghosts wipe the smirk
off his face and through hocus-pocus psychoanalysis and
example, pave the way for his eventual salvation.
Example: How to Keep Christmas
On the example side, I make sure to show how Scrooge
should “keep Christmas” by vividly depicting the
celebrations at Fezziwig’s, the Cratchit home and Fred's
party. When Dickens wrote the story, the Christmas
holiday was celebrated the way Easter is today--you go to
church and there are a few gifts for children. Dickens
converted the 12 day Yuletide feasts (of pagan
origin) which had been held in large country manors, into
smaller scale celebrations that could be held at work, home
and among friends. The feasts, children's games and punch
were popularized by the story and revolutionized the way we celebrate the
holiday. If you view Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Present as
a variant/prototype of a pagan Father Christmas/Santa Claus,
nearly everything about our modern Christmas comes from
Dickens's tale--a fact I highlight in the announcer's
Fear: The Ghost Story of Christmas
Fear is the final motivator for Scrooge's conversion.
Once softened up emotionally by the first two ghosts, he now
reviles the callousness and materialism of the businessmen
and the rag and bone shop grotesques. The dead body and Tiny
Tim’s passing move him to compassion, leading him and the
Sprit to the graveyard scene, which is the most difficult in
Most adaptations of the "Carol" fail right here. They
show Scrooge quaking in fear and then, somehow, he is saved.
Several versions even have him fall into the grave, but at
his own tombstone, Scrooge wouldn't just be afraid of dying.
After all, everybody dies. The crypt alone isn't
enough motivation for the miser to change his ways. He is
saddened by the death of Tiny Tim, but must also undergo his
own demise to be re-born.
To finish him off, Scrooge must be reminded that he's
headed for Marley’s fate--eternal damnation! So, I
bring back the rattling chains and hundreds of
phantoms from Marley’s visit. Now, that could scare
him into being a nice guy--and gets us past the implausible
Scrooge repents, of course, but is only saved when he
says, "I'll change! I'll change... I pray! I beg
you." It's the word "pray" that turns things around and this
miser's submission to God is a fitting Victorian Christian touch.
With it, the phantoms vanish and Scrooge is saved.
Why a "Ghost Story of Christmas" anyway? It was an
English custom to tell ghost stories on Christmas
Eve--stemming from the old Yule celebrations of Saturnalia
and the Winter Solstice, and Dickens wrote several other
supernatural Christmas tales. My adaptation seeks to play up
the ghostly aspects of the story--but in the context of 19th
century Christian beliefs. Marley’s Ghost is truly scary, as
are the hundreds of phantoms.
Likewise, to increase Scrooge's fear, I use thunder and
wind sounds to add real menace to the graveyard scene. To
get a ghostly flavor where necessary, I use a slight reverb
for the spirits--and also for Scrooge, when he accompanies
them. I employ the reverb to depict the spiritual realm as
distant, yet nearby. And Scrooge segues from the graveyard
to his bedroom by the reverb becoming drier and drier--a
nice radio touch. Afterward, the cacophony of church bells
announce both Christ's birth and Scrooge's re-birth.
The last area I restore, is Dickens’ beloved soap box
preaching about the children, “Ignorance and Want”--a scene
missing from many versions. Charles Dickens was a liberal
social reformer--he’d been poor and knew firsthand the
horrors of life in the workhouses, the factories, and the
In most adaptations, this social message gets deleted in
favor of more sentimental scenes--some actually turning
“Tiny Tim” into the star, but charity is what is
central to Dickens’ Christmas--Goodwill towards men. Charity
despite the hard weather and economic pressures. Dickens
takes the metaphor of Christ's offer of heavenly redemption
and literally brings it down to Earth. His Christmas is a
utopia and Scrooge's journey there is Dickens' model for us
all. Without this plea for charity to the less fortunate,
the story becomes too materialistic as a paean to feasts and
games--hardly what Dickens, the moralist, intended.
What Christmas Is All About
Some object to Dickens’ Carol for
its lack of references to religion, but they fail to see Tiny Tim as a metaphor
for Christ--Tim’s crutch is his cross; his death redeems Scrooge; his creed is
“God bless us, every one”; Marley’s ghost and the chained phantoms are damned
souls to whom Christ is unknown; Scrooge is a "wise man" who travels far before
bestowing his gifts; Scrooge’s death and resurrection, etc. Charles Dickens was
too much an artist of symbol and myth to tell his story any more directly than
he did. Those who can’t see Christ in this Christmas story, have perhaps a bit
too much fundamentalism clouding their eyes. This subtext informs us as we
produce the play. Paradoxically, with the religious themes being only in
the subtext, the play can be presented in government-subsidized theaters and
schools without being seen as overtly advocating an exclusively Christian
message. Charity and goodwill are after all, prized by the secular and
non-secular alike. The “Carol’s” message is truly universal.
In scoring A Christmas Carol, other than my own
ghost and suspense music, I adapted real Victorian carols
throughout. I tried to use less well-known carols, to avoid
cliché or sentimentality, without sacrificing the authentic
characteristics that period music could lend to the drama. I
employed the carols to reinforce emotional and structural
connections in the story.
For example; Belle's theme ("The Coventry Carol") is
played by a music box--a gift from Scrooge--that winds
down as their relationship crumbles. "In The Bleak
Mid-Winter" plays under Scrooge's visit to his boyhood and
his good-hearted sister, Fan. This theme returns after
Scrooge's redemption, played by a heavenly harp at the party
where he is welcomed back into the family by Fred, Fan's
In radio drama, sound effects are motion and music is
emotion, and Christmas music has a powerful effect on
audiences, evoking both fond memories and reverence. I can't
understand why other composers have not used this approach
in scoring this story--it being so naturally obvious and
In my pre-recorded musical score, the instrumentation is strictly Victorian: brass
choir, pipe and reed organs, hand bells, church bells,
chimes, cymbals, timpani, fiddle, concertina, music-box,
wine glasses (glass harmonica), choirs and strings. I think
this musical underscore adds greatly to the production.
Bells are central to this story and I use plenty of them
in the score and as sound effects. The bells serve as
punctuation and as a metaphorical "wake up call" to
Scrooge--who lost a fiancée named “Belle.” The program's
sound effects begin with jingling bells and the tiny bell on
Scrooge's office door, and work their way through clocks,
wind chimes, death-bells, and finally, to a cacophony of
church bells when Scrooge is saved.
There is also a great deal of background walla walla to
paint the parties and streets. The story doesn't have many
sound effects, but I rally plenty of them for the graveyard
as Scrooge must battle the elements of doom before he prays
and is redeemed.
Sounds such as doors and dinner dishes,
toasts and Marley’s chains will be produced by the actors on stage. Other
sounds such as wind, thunder, clock chimes, Marley’s off-stage bashing,
cymbal flourishes for scene transitions and the otherworldly screech of the
third Spirit can be rendered by the live sound effects team or
triggered from a CD of pre-recorded SFX. I offer professional sound design
tracks for $25—which can be downloaded as MP3 files. See
the ENG pages in the
truncated sample script PDF for more information.
There are a number metaphors I use in my interpretation
of this material. First, I seek to convey an
edge-of-the-seat quality by urging a vigorous delivery and
slightly fast tempo. Christmas celebrates the pending birth
of a child and always carries anticipation and mystery, as
does the unwrapping of a Christmas gift, and so too, the
best ghost stories. With that in mind, there is surprise
everywhere and I endeavor to keep the audience always
guessing “what’s next,” even though this material is
familiar. I stress mystery being revealed repeatedly--in
Scrooge’s comic toying with the charity seekers, Marley’s
arrival, the hiding of Martha Cratchit, Fred’s “twenty
questions” game, the contents of the charwoman’s bundle, the
shrouded body on the bed, and the otherworldly “voice” of
the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come.
The second metaphor I pursue is the contrast of delight
amidst awfulness--the laughing crowds despite the
privations of winter’s cold wind and crunchy snow;
the boy carolers being interrupted mid-song by the angry
Scrooge; the abrupt change from Fezziwig’s gay fiddle-driven
party to Belle’s sadly winding down music box. There’s a
defiant mysticism about celebrating life on one of the
shortest days of the year. The idea that hope can spring
from such bleak surroundings is at the heart of
Christmas--and Dickens’ fable.
Lastly, I seek a gusto from the many grotesques in the
story, starting with the unreformed Scrooge. He relishes his
misanthropy. He’s not suffering in the counting house. He
loves it there. He enjoys punning with Fred and the charity
seekers. He even jokes with Marley’s ghost--for a while. The
chained Phantoms inspire compassion in Scrooge, while the
Spirits teach him the sad fate of all those other exuberant
ogres. Scrooge’s loony joy at the end seems that much higher
for all the fright and suffering that preceded it.
I hope to encourage cast and crew to dive headlong into their roles and leave
behind all the gloomy and moralistic “Carols” they have seen before. This is a miraculous birth,
not a fatalistic funeral. Let’s laugh good and hearty! Just
The only other advice I could give regarding producing
the program would be to read Charles Dickens’ original story
to refresh your memory as to what is really going on. It
would also be very helpful to view the video of the
excellent 1951 film version starring Alastair Sim. It goes
under the title of either A Christmas Carol or
Scrooge and is available in original black & white or in
a colorized version.
On radio, the 1939 Campbell Playhouse version, titled
A Christmas Carol, was produced by Orson Welles and stars
Lionel Barrymore as an exceptional Scrooge. Barrymore’s
vocal mannerisms and delivery are perfect--unfortunately the
script, in my opinion, deletes many important scenes and
doesn't exploit others enough. However, for my version, I've
modeled my ending introduction of the cast and crew after
theirs, as an especially fitting and fun closer.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a great story for all
ages and should be an enjoyable production. It will teach
people things they didn't know about Christmas and Scrooge
and themselves. And its fantasy elements are perfectly
suited to the magic of radio. To those who seek to produce
this wonderful story as a radio drama I can only echo Tiny
Tim's credo, "God Bless you, every one!"
Here's a link to a 4-1/2 minute MP3 clip from a
production of my adaptation of Dickens' "Carol":
Scrooge and Marley.mp3 (2.1 MB)