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‘Meeting of Minds’ Returns--Now on Radio

“Meeting of Minds,” the 1977 PBS series that brought together such historical figures as Karl Marx, Thomas Paine and Emily Dickinson for roundtable discussions, is now being brought to life itself--this time as a radio show.

Steve Allen, who created and wrote the TV series, has contributed 13 of his scripts to Cal State Northridge’s public-radio station, KCSN-FM (88.5), which will begin airing new productions of them in hourlong installments beginning April 15 at 7 p.m.

“ ‘Meeting of Minds’ makes just as much sense on radio as it does on television,” Allen said. “The excitement of the program comes from the clash of ideas and, obviously, ideas can be conveyed in one medium as easily as in the other.”

Allen’s on-air participation in the KCSN project will be limited to an interview that will be included in one segment, plus “about a half hour’s worth of piano bridges,” according to the series’ executive producer, Stan Reyburn.

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“We look upon it as an educational project as much as a dramatic presentation,” Reyburn said, explaining that he shares the concern that Allen expressed when he originally developed the series about the widespread lack of knowledge of the ideas and accomplishments represented by these historical figures. They include Marie Antoinette, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt and Sir Thomas More.

The radio “Meeting of Minds” forums will be moderated by veteran voice actress June Foray, who co-hosted a daily 15-minute Metromedia Radio program called “Smile Time” with Allen in the 1950s--before he took over as host of “The Tonight Show” and she became known as the cartoon voice of Rocky the Squirrel. She doesn’t think the show will suffer in the transition from television to radio.

“The television show wasn’t that visual to begin with,” she noted. “It was just characters sitting around a table talking. It’s what they said that was important.”

With the radio version, Foray said, “The voices create images in your mind, you project your own picture. It’s the power of imagination which is what radio is all about, anyway.”

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The idea for the radio version of “Meeting of Minds” was proposed internally last fall, Reyburn said. Casting was completed in late December and recording sessions took place on Saturday mornings for several weeks afterwards, with the actors collecting union-scale wages and the crew volunteering its time.

The cast includes members of KCSN’s Thirty Minutes to Curtain repertory group and such other voice talent as “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Gail Mathias, Alan Oppenheimer of “The Smurfs” and one-time CBS mainstay Ben Wright of the old “Have Gun, Will Travel” radio show.

As for whether “Meeting of Minds” will grow beyond the confines of KCSN, Reyburn said that there have been preliminary talks about syndicating the series, “but nothing has been done about it yet. We have to get this on the air first and, of course, we couldn’t do anything along those lines without Mr. Allen’s blessing.”


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