Film historian offers insights behind each show

Patrick Lucanio during one of his "Explore" presentations in the Hult Center lobby before a show.

Inside the darkened Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Oregon, a young Patrick Lucanio sat transfixed during matinees he attended with his parents in the 1950s.

 

His fascination grew into a passion that he shaped into a lifelong career of researching, writing and teaching about film and radio.

 

“I thought, ‘This is really cool! I love this.’ I read every book I could find — and there weren’t that many at the time,” says Patrick, who went on to earn a PhD in film studies at the University of Oregon. (His last name is pronounced Lew-KAH-nee-o.)

 

Patrick taught film studies and literature at Western Oregon University for two decades before shifting into teaching photography and film studies part time at Lane Community College, where he offers the course “Understanding Movies: The American Cinema.”

 

For the past several years he’s added a side gig to his repertoire:  Radio Redux’s “Explore” program, a series of insightful talks about the history behind the movies and radio plays that Radio Redux adapts for its audiences.

 

Patrick's love for radio drama is rooted in the late 1950s, even as television was tolling the death knell of the radio performance art form.

 

“I listened every night,” he says, recalling Portland’s KEX evening radio schedule in those days: comedy on Tuesday and Thursday, The Shadow on Wednesday, Sherlock Holmes on Friday.

 

When Radio Redux emerged on the local scene in 2009 to bring new life to the art form, Patrick became an immediate fan.

Patrick Lucanio taught film studies and literature at Western Oregon University for two decades. He still teaches part time, at Lane Community College.

“I felt jealous. It’s something I always wanted to do myself,” he says. A friend encouraged him to approach Radio Redux founder Fred Crafts about joining the Radio Redux troupe.

 

“I volunteered to sweep the floors for him, just so I could be involved. I just love it. I’ve got enough ham in me, I wished I could be up there doing that,” Patrick says.

 

The Radio Redux approach to old-time radio requires that actors be skilled in both voice and interpretation — just as the original performers were — in order to capture and hold audience imagination.

 

“It’s not just actors reading a script, but actors portraying actors performing radio theater,” Patrick says. 

 

At Crafts' suggestion, Patrick launched the lecture series, ”Explore,” that precedes each Radio Redux performance. It’s an assignment Lucanio takes seriously, spending as much free time as he can muster for two weeks assembling slides and organizing his thoughts to prepare for each production.

 

“I’m not just winging it. It is hard work,” he says, noting that some of his early anxiety about audience reaction to his lectures has been relieved by overflow attendance before Radio Redux performances.

 

“They seem to want to hear me," he says. "I’m beginning to recognize faces."

 

Patrick's wide-ranging lectures cover not only the performers, the production companies, the writers and the bottom-line business of the era, but also the cultural contexts that nurtured the art form and created some shows that are practically immortal.

 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which Radio Redux performs three times Feb. 12-14 in the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, is a rich example of radio as art, Patrick says.

 

Sadly, television overwhelmed radio drama and practically eliminated it by 1960. Even sadder, most people don’t appreciate that American radio of that period truly set the world standard for quality performance — particularly in sound effects, he says.

 

For example, Jack Webb’s (Sgt. Joe Friday) radio performances of Dragnet required that half of an automobile be in the studio to produce the authentic sound of a car door opening and closing, Patrick says.

Patrick Lucanio's presentations, "Explore," take place in the Hult Center lobby 45 minutes before each show.

“You can’t produce it any other way than doing it with a car,” he says. “Radio as a real distinct art form — with all those sound effects — is truly an American art form.”

 

Patrick should know, because he’s done his homework. Prior to his career in education, he worked in journalism, first at the Capital Journal in Salem and later as staff writer for FilmFax magazine. He’s solely authored two books: Them or Us: Archetypal Interpretations of Fifties Alien Invasion Films and With Fire and Sword: Italian Spectacles on American Screens 1958-1968. He’s also coauthored numerous other film books and chapters in film books, and well as serving as technical advisor for the BBC-4. 

 

Patrick is also the longtime editor of Radiogram — the newsletter of the nonprofit educational Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy. (Back issues are available online at no charge.)

 

Radio Redux’s ability to accurately re-create the era of dramatic and comedic radio performances before a live audience is helping rejuvenate radio as a venue for storytelling. With exciting live sound effects and superb acting, Radio Redux is attracting more and more younger audience members to a unique entertainment format.

 

It doesn’t hurt that podcasting has also caught the attention of younger listeners in recent years, especially last year’s debut of the wildly popular “Serial,” but also longtime radio shows based on storytelling without visuals, such as “The Moth,” “This American Life” and “Radiolab.”

 

All of these story-based radio shows regularly rank in the Top Ten podcasts. And all, it can be argued, are throwbacks to the Golden Age of Radio that Radio Redux embraces.

 

Patrick's presentations enhances that by helping Radio Redux audiences better understand and appreciate the historical context of an art form that is now both new and old. 

 

By Bub Bishop. Bishop is a retired reporter for The Register-Guard.

 

"I’m beginning to recognize faces," Patrick says of audiences in his lecture series, which plays to standing-room-only crowds. He devotes many hours over several weeks to prepare notes and slides for each program.

Left and above: Patrick Lucanio hopes his students get a laugh when they visit his office at Lane Community College, where his decor includes a movie poster from a rare Cold War-era sharing of films between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Patrick also designs posters for each of his "Explore" presentations for Radio Redux. Note the copies of Radiogram on his desk. Photos by Bub Bishop.