Radio Repertory Company of America History and Background
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Discover How the Formation of Our Company Grew and Explore the Exciting Adventures Our Original Audio Dramas Will Take You On
In 1994, Larry Weiner saw an article about National Public Radio’s NPR Playhouse, one of the few networks still broadcasting radio drama. At the time Weiner was teaching at Montclair State University, and, in his spare time, he was writing radio commercials and a number of corporate communication projects. Even then, he was playing with the idea of creating original audio drama. For whom and for what purpose, he had no idea.
“I loved writing and producing audio, and I had always been tickled with the idea of creating radio drama,” states Weiner. “That’s when the NPR article appeared. In it, the program director stated he was always on the lookout for good, original audio dramas. That was the impetus I needed to dive in and attempt to produce my own radio play.”
Partnering up with an announcer friend, Bob Arsena, and an acquaintance, Angelo Panetta, who owned a recording studio, Weiner scripted a half-hour pilot radio show about an incompetent private eye, who somehow always got the job done. The show was titled, “The Adventures of Garson Krebs: Private Eye.” The idea for the character came from Arsena, who became Weiner’s original partner and remains RRCA’s official voice.
Weiner then rounded up a small group of actor friends and the troop went into Panetta’s studio and read the script into a microphone. A few hours later, the recording was finished. Panetta spent a couple of days adding some music and sound effects, and so began RRCA’s entry into the field of audio drama.
The Garson Krebs series, 10 half-hour comedy shows in all, aired on NPR between 1994 and 1996. “At the time, we were still just doing it for fun,” adds Weiner. “So, we decided to do a spin-off of Krebs.”
Called “The Brooke Sisters,” RRCA produced four half-hour episodes about two senior citizens who turned from lives of crime into private eyes working for the forces of good. “The Brooke Sisters” aired on radio stations around the world.
From there, the company left the private eye world and ventured into fantasy with its next offering, “The Stealer of Souls.” In this series, an evil spirit roams the world seeking out and then pilfering souls. After two half-hour episodes, RRCA made a fateful move: to hire a well-known celebrity to star in its next Stealer episode.
“We were beginning to get serious with our work,” begins Weiner, “and it became obvious if we were to become more than just minor players in the world of audio drama, we would need well known celebrities to star in our shows.”
Katey Sagal Becomes RRCA’s First Major Star
Katey Sagal, fresh off her 11-year stint as Peg Bundy in “Married With Children,” became available to the company. Sagal has gone on to star in the animated series, “Future World,” the ABC series “Eight Simple Rules” and “Sons of Anarchy.” With such a well- known television performer in hand, Weiner decided to get away from the half-hour format and script a one-hour piece.
Now that the company had made the decision to feature accomplished actors, Weiner felt the best way to make use of future celebrity headliners, would be to begin writing feature length stories. In addition, new digital recording capabilities made his ambitious goal more attainable.
“We could now hire our talent for two hours and then digitally move their recorded lines into the appropriate place in the story,” says Angelo Panetta, the Chief Engineer and Weiner’s partner.
Marina Sirtis Stars in RRCA’s Next Audio Project
When Weiner found out “Star Trek: Next Generation” star Marina Sirtis -- Counselor Deana Troi -- was available, he decided to write a science fiction story. “Flight of the Bumble Bee” hit bookstores about a year later, and RRCA’s fate as a producer of science fiction material was sealed.
“Babylon 5” Star Claudia Christian Stars as Anne Manx
After Bumble Bee, Weiner wrote another science fiction script titled “Anne Manx: Lives of the Cat.” The company had no celebrity lined up to star as Anne Manx. That’s when Panetta, while visiting a relative in Atlanta, decided to drop in on the country’s largest science fiction convention, DragonCon, which is held each year in that city over the Labor Day weekend. Panetta approached Claudia Christian, who, for five years, starred as Commander Susan Ivanova in the popular television series, “Babylon 5.” In addition, Christian appeared opposite Charlie Sheen in “The Chase,” supplied the voice of Helga in the Disney animated feature, “Atlantis,” and had been the voice of Jaguar.
Christian jumped at the chance, and when her performance turned out to be so powerful, Weiner and Panetta realized they also needed an equally popular performer to play Anne Manx’s nemesis. As a result, Patricia Tallman, who played Lyta Alexander in “Babylon 5,” came on board to play the evil Jean Richmond character.
“Lives of the Cat” proved so popular, Weiner decided to create a series out of the futuristic female gumshoe. More episodes have followed: “Anne Manx and the Ring of Minotour,” “Anne Manx and the Trouble on Chromius,” “Anne Manx on Amazonia,” “Anne Manx and the Empress Blair Project,” and “Anne Manx and the Blood Chase.” No longer using just one celebrity per show, RRCA was now using three established science fiction stars to head its shows. In the subsequent Anne Manx shows, Alexandra Tydings -- Aphrodite from “Xena/Hercules,” Paris Jefferson -- Athena from the same series, Andy Hallett -- Lorne from the syndicated television show, “Angel”, former Tony winner and Oscar nominee, Barbara Harris, award-winning actress, Ellen Muth, four time Tony nominee, Kelli O’Hara, Hollywood legends, Shirley Jones and Ed Asner; and “Cutting Edge” and “Lion King” star Moira Kelly, have all joined Christian and Tallman.
RRCA Wins Top Awards for Audio Production
In 2002, the Radio Repertory Company of America finally received national acclaim with “Trouble On Chromius,” garnering a gold award from the Mark Time Awards organization for producing the country’s top science fiction audio drama. Members of the Firesign Theater served as judges of the competition. Two years later, a second Mark Time was awarded to RRCA for its “Anne Manx on Amazonia” episode.
In 2007, another audio competition, the Golden Headset Awards, presented RRCA with another first place, this time winning top prize for multi-cast recording for “Trouble on Chromius.” At the time, the company also licensed its programs to Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, which has since broadcast all of RRCA’s shows.
Traci Lords Becomes an RRCA Star
In 2006, RRCA took a break from its Anne Manx series to produce another science fiction audio piece, “The Adventures of Red Cloud.” Starring as Red Cloud was Traci Lords, who has appeared in John Waters’ “Cry Baby,” “Blade,” “First Wave,” “Deathlands,” and many other shows. Scream queen, Brinke Stevens and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actor James Leary also starred in the new show.
Acclaimed Actress Barbara Harris Joins RRCA
After Red Cloud’s release, Weiner went back to the Anne Manx series, creating a fourth episode in the series, “Anne Manx on Amazonia.” Here the company struck real gold, literally, with the addition of legendary actress, Barbara Harris. Harris, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her starring role opposite John Cullum in “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” went on to win a Tony for her tour de force performance in “The Apple Tree.” Harris then went to Hollywood, where she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, appearing opposite Dustin Hoffman in “Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying All Those Terrible Things About Me.” Harris was also nominated for four Golden Globes for her film work, which also includes “Nashville,” “When Peggy Sue Got Married (Kathleen Turner’s mother),” Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, “Family Plot,” and Jody Foster’s mother in the original “Freaky Friday.”
Weiner describes what it was like directing a woman of such incredible accomplishment. “I was never so intimidated. I remember standing in the studio with her thinking, okay, this woman has been directed by Mike Nichols, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, and Francis Ford Coppola, and now me. It was pretty daunting, but Barbara couldn’t have been more cooperative.”
In “Anne Manx on Amazonia,” Ms. Harris performed two roles, a queen and her daughter.
“Anne Manx and the Empress Blair Project” Next Audio Project
After “Anne Manx on Amazonia,” RRCA began production on its fifth Anne Manx episode: “Anne Manx and the Empress Blair Project,” and Anne Manx finds herself protecting an apparently naïve young princess. She also falls for a mysterious stranger, whose allegiance is never clear until the end. “Dead Like Me” star Ellen Muth will join Claudia Christian in the latest story in the galactic gumshoe’s adventures.
“The Songbird” Unites Three Legends
Academy Award winner, Shirley Jones; multiple Emmy winner, Ed Asner; and four time Tony nominee, Kelli O’Hara, team up in another stand-alone RRCA comedy drama, “The Songbird.” O’Hara plays the part of neurotic chanteuse, Maureen Barnet, who has dreams her daughter is going to be kidnapped. In order to prevent a crime that has not yet happened, Barnet hires a retired private eye, played by Ed Asner. Jones plays the role of Amelia Storm, a retired singer trying to rid herself of a curse.
Most notable in the show will be a first time ever duet between O’Hara and Jones.
Anne Manx Comic Book Fresh off the Drawing Board
RRCA has ventured outside the audio world by the addition of a comic book to the Anne Manx franchise. The premier edition premiered in the Summer of 2011, and is considered a prequel to the Anne Manx audio series.
Jean Richmond Gets Her Own Show
Recognizing that many Anne Manx fans come from Patricia Tallman’s large following, the company decided to give the Jean Richmond character her own show. In “Richmond Smokes a Joint,” the title character goes undercover in an attempt to discover the ample gold cache. But, what she finds is something even more valuable. Kris Holden Reid, from the Science Fiction channel’s “Lost Girl” series, costars.
“Lion King” Star Moira Kelly Joins the RRCA Galaxy of Stars
Moira Kelly, the star of the popular ice-skating movie, “The Cutting Edge,” and the voice of Nala in the Walt Disney animated classic, “The Lion King” is the latest celebrity to guest star in the ongoing Anne Manx saga. In “Anne Manx and the Blood Chase.” Kelly plays the leader of an ancient sect of Baldurians on Manx’s home planet of Baldur. Patricia Tallman also joins Claudia Christian and Kelly.
When Larry Weiner thinks back on his company’s humble beginnings, he marvels at how far it has come. “With our reputation for excellence and the stars we have used, RRCA can literally approach anyone now without fear. 10 years ago, I would have never expected this.”
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