Cape Noir Radio Theater: A Sound Night Of Adventure

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Theater

J Hagenbuckle at work in his home studio.  NINA SCHUESSLER PHOTO

With all of the Zoom calls, virtual socializing via Skype or FaceTime and streaming of movies and TV shows at home instead of going out for live theater or trips to the cinema, sometimes it seems like everything we do these days involves staring at a screen. Wouldn't it be nice to get cozy, close your hardworking eyes and enjoy a bit of mystery and adventure on the limitless screen of your imagination?

You are in luck. Every second and fourth Thursday of the month, Cape Noir Radio Theater brings all the gritty atmosphere and colorful characters of the golden age of radio drama right into your home, delivering a welcome taste of nostalgia, a shiver of mystery and some laughs for good measure. The show is the brainchild of creator, producer, writer, director, actor, sound designer and composer J Hagenbuckle, who works in his home studio alongside actor and story consultant Nina Schuessler, Cape Cod Theatre Company/HJT’s artistic director. Cape Noir Radio Theater debuted on WOMR back in September with “Frank Brand Private Eye in Double Trouble.” All four episodes are available to enjoy on demand at on the Podcast page under the Cape Noir Radio Theater link. A brand new episode, a dark comedy thriller filled with twists and turns called “Hello Bigelow,” tells the story of a down and out door-to-door salesman and a suburban housewife left home alone by her husband on Valentine's Day. “Hello Bigelow” will air live on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 8:30 p.m. on the radio at WOMR 92.1 FM or WFMR 91.3 FM. You can also listen live on the WOMR homepage by clicking the “On Air” button.

Hagenbuckle grew up listening to music on the radio in the '50s. Throughout his life he has continued to enjoy radio and to be inspired and influenced by it in his design career. He cites shows like Orson Welles’ infamous “War of the Worlds” Halloween broadcast that scared listeners silly back in 1938, as well as vintage shows like “Suspense,” “Pat Novak for Hire,” and the more recent Joe Frank of NPR as influential to his radio sound work.

“As a writer, my influences include Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler, Orson Welles’ film 'Touch of Evil,' TV shows like 'Peter Gunn' and 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and playwrights Sam Shepard and David Rabe,” Hagenbuckle said. “Cape Noir Radio shows include drama, comedy, thrillers, adventure, ghost stories, romance, really a wide variety of genres. The shows lean toward noir, detective stories and thrillers, but are not confined to that.”

For example, Hagenbuckle is currently in rehearsal with three CCTC actors for a fantasy story he wrote about a lost starfish who fell from the constellation Pleiades and a solitary fisherman who rescues her from the sea in a storm. He explained that radio plays are special because they paint pictures in the imagination with sound.

“No sets, no costumes, no lights, no crew, just pure sound, very powerful in the ears and the mind,” Hagenbuckle said. “Young people, once they discover how good these shows sound in their AirPods with the dynamic mix of voices, music and effects, will love them.”

The first show Hagenbuckle wrote for Cape Noir Radio Theater, “Frank Brand Private Eye in Double Trouble,” was intended to be a live staged radio play for CCTC in January. COVID-19 had other plans, however, and as the theater closed, all of his freelance design work and musician work came to a standstill. So he adapted, recording it as a radio play, and sent it to Matthew Dunn at WOMR. He set Hagenbuckle up with a regular time slot.

“There's nothing like a deadline to get you to work,” Hagenbuckle said. “For now it is a way to stay creative during the pandemic. Who knows how long the pandemic or the well of ideas will last? I enjoy designing sound for theater, but this project opens up the world of creative opportunity considerably for me.”

When other actors are involved, Hagenbuckle records them one at a time in a safe, socially-distanced manner. This is the time consuming and somewhat clumsy part of the process, he explained. Because of the difficulties in doing the voice recordings, he write the plays with a minimum of actors needed. His version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” for example, scheduled to air on Nov. 26, features only Hagenbuckle's own voice.

How have screen-oriented audiences responded to the audio adventures of Frank Brand and the rest of the Cape Noir crew?

“Thumbs up! They love it,” Hagenbuckle said. “A DJ I know who worked at WCBS-FM, NYC, during the '70s heard 'Double Trouble' and was very impressed. Said it brought back many exciting memories of vintage radio. An actress friend of ours who starred in many ZBS radio sci-fi adventures said the shows are like movies for the ears!”

Don't miss “Hello Bigelow” on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 8:30 p.m., and go back and listen to the archived episodes afterwards. Your ears will thank you.



Cape Noir Radio Theater

Second and Fourth Thursdays, 8:30 to 9 p.m.

WOMR 92.1 fm and WFMR 91.3