Coming Soon: The Black Mass

The Black Mass

Com­ing short­ly to Vir­tu­al Com­mu­ni­ty Radio is the land­mark radio dra­ma series The Black Mass, cre­at­ed at the Paci­fi­ca radio sta­tion KPFA in Berke­ley, CA, over fifty years ago. In 30 chill­ing tales of mys­tery, imag­i­na­tion and the human mind, The Black Mass brings you some of literature’s most haunt­ing sto­ries, by mas­ters of the craft.

Realised with the min­i­mum of audio equip­ment, the per­for­mances were quite remark­able and trod ground sel­dom cov­ered by radio dra­ma before — or since. Watch this space for details on when the shows will air. There are 30 episodes of up to 30 min­utes each, and each week­ly episode will be broad­cast twice on the same day, once for UK/European lis­ten­ers and the oth­er for those in North America.

John Whit­ing pro­duced most of the episodes, and he writes:

Black Mass was born in 1963, the brain-child of Jack Nes­sel, who was the Dra­ma & Lit­er­a­ture Direc­tor at KPFA in Berke­ley, the first vol­un­tar­i­ly lis­ten­er-spon­sored non-com­mer­cial FM sta­tion in the world. Jack sug­gest­ed the idea to Erik Bauers­feld, who taught aes­thet­ics and phi­los­o­phy at the Cal­i­for­nia School of Fine Art, and had recent­ly begun to do read­ings of clas­sic and mod­ern lit­er­a­ture for the sta­tion. Erik was not wild­ly enthu­si­as­tic, but thought that it might be inter­est­ing to search out some of the best sto­ries of the super­nat­ur­al by first-rate authors who did not nor­mal­ly write with­in that genre. Oblig­a­tion soon became obsession.

“I was the sta­tion’s Pro­duc­tion Direc­tor at the time and had already pro­duced some rather elab­o­rate radio dra­mas. Jack, already a friend before he joined the sta­tion, was aware of my child­hood fond­ness for hor­ror sto­ries and sug­gest­ed that I col­lab­o­rate with Erik. Thus was born one of the most fruit­ful cre­ative rela­tion­ships in my life and, to this day, one of my clos­est friendships.

“A work­ing pat­tern quick­ly evolved which thence­forth nev­er var­ied. Erik would edit the sto­ries to a work­able length and, as resources per­mit­ted, adapt the dia­log to a dra­mat­ic for­mat. I would then record him read­ing the text in the stu­dio, with or with­out oth­er actors, and he would take the tapes away to edit, which he did him­self, often piec­ing them togeth­er word by word from almost infi­nite retakes.

“Once the text was assem­bled, we would reserve a night in the main stu­dio to put the pro­gram togeth­er with music and sound effects. Some­times these were plot­ted in advance in great detail, some­times not. Usu­al­ly I would have a chance to hear the voice track before the pro­duc­tion session.

“Because of extreme demands on stu­dio time, each adap­ta­tion was begun in the ear­ly evening, after the news had gone out, and car­ried on until it was com­plet­ed, usu­al­ly some time in the wee small hours. The most remark­able aspect of this col­lab­o­ra­tion was that we soon dis­cov­ered that, when it came to radio pro­duc­tion, we had a sin­gle brain between us. When Erik made a sug­ges­tion, I imme­di­ate­ly saw that it was the obvi­ous way to pro­ceed; when I sug­gest­ed a son­ic frame­work, Erik would declare that it was exact­ly what he had had in mind. At the end of the ses­sion, we always left the stu­dio with a tape which either of us would have been glad to put his exclu­sive name to. The hap­pi­est moments of all were between about 2 and 4 a.m., when we retired to Eric’s apart­ment in the Berke­ley hills and qui­et­ly drank our way into obliv­ion on Erik’s excel­lent Tan­querey-based gim­lets, know­ing in our hearts that we had pro­duced yet anoth­er masterpiece.”

Erik Bauers­feld passed away in 2016. Many thanks to John Whit­ing for access to the mate­ri­als and for per­mis­sion to broad­cast them.

The Black Mass art­work was pro­duced by Ter­ry Lightfoot.