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Published: Friday, 10/10/2003

`Radio Days' recalls the intimacy of a bygone era

Members of Five By Design perform in period costume. Members of Five By Design perform in period costume.

In 1941, television was in its infancy. Radio, itself still a novelty, ruled. What people could not see, they filled in with their imaginations.

The vocal ensemble Five By Design revisits the era of WW II radio tomorrow night in a Toledo Symphony pops concert titled “Radio Days.”

“We have created an affectionate look at how radio bound the country together during the war years,” says Five By Design's Alton Accola, who narrates the show.

“The songs of this era influenced an entire generation of people. Many are still known today. But while people remember the songs, they don't know the history. So, we offer a kind of musical history lesson.”

Featured music includes such favorites as “Sentimental Journey,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Praise the Lord & Pass the Ammunition.”

Also revisited are two shows that premiered in 1938 and 1941 respectively: Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge, and Inner Sanctum Mysteries (famous for its creaking-door opening).

Tomorrow's performance offers audiences a glimpse into the world of radio production. Actors recreate effects ranging from the soft patter of rain-drops to the squishing sounds of someone trying to walk through the mud.

“Today all those sounds are done digitally, but we do them on stage the way they were done back then. We recreate the old-fashioned radio studio for our audiences to see.”

To complete the effect, the singers dress in period costume. Accola narrates the show from the side of the stage where he sits by the radio in his art deco living room.

It was a wonderful era for broadcasting, says Accola.

“Look back at pictures from the time and you see people actually watching the radio. They were fascinated by the idea of live transmissions. The country was not nearly so homogenous as it is today, but these kinds of experiences brought people together.”

A former public school music teacher, Accola founded Five By Design 15 years ago with students from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. The group is based in Minneapolis.

Five By Design performs with the Toledo Symphony at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Stranahan Theater. Tickets range from $20 to $55. Information: 419-246-8000.

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