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Jim Hemig: Blending the old and the new

Jim Hemig Publisher The Union
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

“You want to be on a live, old time radio drama?” Steve Baker, program director for KVMR, asked me about a week ago.

There’s a reason I work in newspapers and not radio, as my wife likes to remind me.

“You don’t enunciate very well,” she’ll often mention when I’m mumbling something.



So I told Steve, “I’m not your guy.” Then he said this was going to be a community radio show performed in front of a live audience, with a live broadcast and a live video stream on the Internet.

Combining live theater, live radio and live Internet video. What a very cool idea.

I loved the concept of blending the old and the new. Combining live theater, live radio and live Internet video. What a very cool idea.




I told Steve I’d do it, and he said I’d be contacted and given a part. I guess being a newspaper publisher gets you past the audition stage.

What I found intriguing was the combination of live and streaming. The entertainment of the past, such as radio dramas, seems a bit outdated in this age of satellite radio, HDTV, 3D home TVs, ultra-realistic video games, the Internet and smart phones.

People tell me that local newspapers and radio are old-fashioned dinosaurs.

I was excited to be part of something that proves the contrary.

Loraine Webb emailed me the script and assigned me a character with a lot of lines. Well, 23 seemed like a lot to me. With the pressure mounting to perform in front of a live audience, as well as streaming to the world, I quickly begged Loraine for a smaller part. She came back with the part of an old miner named Samuels with only six lines.

Six lines. Even I can’t screw that up. Or so I hoped.

When Steve said a “community radio show,” he wasn’t kidding. Arriving at the short rehearsal Sunday afternoon, I found more than 20 people covering approximately 30 speaking roles.

I quickly recognized a few faces: Howard Levine, Grass Valley City Council member; Heidi Hall, Congressional candidate last fall; Julie Baker, executive director of the Center for the Arts and Joanna Robinson from Hospitality House among them. The large group was packed into the community room at the new KVMR building.

During the quick read-through it was obvious I was among acting talent. Folks read their lines off their 30-page scripts with ease, expression and character voices. Me? When my turn came I tripped over my lines and made no attempt at a character.

“Enunciate, Hemig!” I thought. But my six lines went by too fast.

Monday was the night of the big show. We all got to enter the brand new KVMR building and wander into the newly connected back stage area of the 150-year-old Nevada Theatre. Standing on that stage, thinking about the history and performances over the last 150 years, was surreal. The Union has been around for 150 years, and what both the paper and this theater have done for the community is inspiring. In a small way, I get to be part of both.

Even before the doors opened, a long line of people waited for a seat to watch the live performance. People I talked with loved the idea of watching a radio show “the way they used to be performed” with a few microphones, many actors and simple sound effects.

Since this was performed and broadcast live, we had to start on time. Steve Baker had the role of radio announcer and launched “Zephyr of the West” with a great old-time radio announcer voice. “Zephyr Of The West” is the title of our radio play, written and directed by storyteller/musician/author and former Nevada City resident Joe McHugh.

The show moved at a rapid pace. Actors said their lines with gusto and stepped away from the mic, allowing another to step up. I watched in amazement at the unrehearsed dance of many people, only a few microphones and the sound effects team pouring water, walking on gravel, lighting matches and making a whole host of sounds.

The story is set in Nevada City in 1914, where an elderly woman recounts to her grandson the story of how she met, fell in love with and saved the life of his grandfather, a dashing Pony Express rider. Veteran local actress Loraine Webb corralled the cast and played the key narrator’s role. She was fantastic. She even made the sound of the horse whinny!

Since my part was at the end, I got the best seat in the house, watching both the Nevada Theatre audience and the actors on the stage. I even had a second to text my parents, who live in Truckee, from the stage and told them to tune into KVMR and listen in.

One after another, Howard, Julie, Heidi and Joanna said their lines. My mind drifted between thinking about how this was the method of entertainment before the Internet, video games and TV and getting nervous because my part was coming up and I didn’t want to be the one to ruin the moment.

Finally my lines were up. “Who’s there? Who’s calling?” I said in my best gravelly miner’s voice. Before I knew it, my lines were over and so was the radio show. And my voice. I guess I don’t have a miner’s voice in me.

Why am I sharing all this? I think it’s important to remember what entertainment was like before all this high-tech wizardry. And I’m impressed with this small group of people taking an old form of entertainment and turning it into something brand new. A live-acted radio show with simple effects shared across the world through the Internet with audio and video. Bringing our small town history and our community players to the world-wide stage.

If you’d like to listen, check out the podcast at http://www.kvmr.org/podcasts.

To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email jhemig@theunion.com or call 530-477-4299.


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