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Petaluma Radio Players win national recognition, fans

Sit back and gather 'round the living room for tonight's listening pleasure, as the Petaluma Radio Players have a new story to tell - not for the prairie home, but for the homes out West, right here in Wine Country.

Riding a podcast-fueled wave of audio appreciation, the local audio theater troupe is winning listeners and national recognition with their mix of mysteries, short thrillers and comedy, all broadcast locally on Sunday evenings and downloadable as podcasts on their website for a lifestyle choice that offers a break from screen time.

A big break came to the group this month when the National Audio Theatre Festivals chose their piece, “Be Bold, Be Bold,” by Houston playwright Donna Latham, to join the silver division in their annual HEAR Now Festival's 2018 Podcast Palooza. And the troupe's performance of the Sherlock Holmes comedy, “‘The Misadventure of the Disobliging Cadaver,” by U.K. author Vince Stadon, was nominated in the platinum division.

Supervising producer Ralph Scott said it was an honor to receive the national recognition. “We've only been on the block for less than four years,” he said. “There's a lot of other competition out there that has many, in some cases, decades, more experience than we do.”

Scott and associate producer Kendra Murray, who said their ages between the two of them are “over a century of living on this planet,” broadcast their programs on radio station KPCA-FM, or 103.3 in Petaluma, on Sunday evenings from 6-6:30 p.m.

Since starting three years ago, they've read through more than 160 plays, and Murray had the opportunity to direct “Be Bold, Be Bold,” a project she was very excited to take on. Talking with writer Latham throughout the process, Murray said the writer was quite prolific in her praise of the troupe's dedication.

“We are mostly volunteers,” said Murray. “All the people in our troupe have other jobs in their lives. We do this because we love it, and while it is work, it is certainly a pleasure.”

The players really enjoy being thespians on some level. Bringing these plays to life with their voices and post-production effects, whether it's through digital means, a suitcase with knobs, clothing closures or other noises, and getting everything recorded right there with others: they adore the whole process.

It started back in June 2015 when founder Linda Jay walked into WORK Petaluma, a coworking space, during a Tuesday morning coffee special, and placed two scripts down on a table that her own parents had written for “The Shadow” in 1944, offering them to be read.

“I don't think she realized that single event would be a pivotal event that would launch a thespian troupe,” said Scott. “The one thing we all have in common is a love of theater.”

In a world of screens ­­- on phones, tablets, laptops, televisions ­­- creative audio is making a comeback. Podcasts are seeing an explosion on iTunes, what Scott calls an unspoken desire for people to have an intimate experience with the nonvisual medium.

“With the advent of podcasts, you have the ability to listen on the fly,” said Murray, “on a flight with earbuds in, in your car. Everybody's got a commute, even if it's just across town.”

Regardless of when listeners are tuning in, it's becoming a lifestyle choice for them and the Petaluma Radio Players alike. Scott credits the dawn of audiobooks as having really opened up an entire field for all sorts of writers to have their works “read” in time.

He believes the experience of being able to relax while driving is something that radio will always win over visual media. Both mediums can inculcate an emotional response, but radio allows listeners the ability to adapt a program as if it's their own.

“You've got the need for creative fulfillment,” said Scott, “and to allow that part of your brain to create pictures. That is robbed from you when the pictures are provided.”

The troupe is looking for a board of directors, particularly people who don't necessarily come from the radio or theatrical arts but have proven themselves in the business community. Auditions for upcoming productions can be found on their website, petalumaradioplayers.com.

“We are always opening our auditions to the community,” said Murray. “We really want to bring in more people to be a part of this exciting project, and to enhance what we offer.”

Along with listening live, the second outlet where listeners can find them is a worldwide audience online at www.kpca.fm. For those who miss the simulcast, the program is archived on their site for anytime listening. Scott is confident in a possible syndication deal by as early as 2019.

“We have been speaking with a radio syndicator out of a suburb of Chicago,” said Scott, “and that company has expressed interest in making us a national phenomenon.”

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