The West Virginia University Libraries and the Wheeling Symphony are collaborating to celebrate a Mountain State treasure from the golden era of radio.
Broadcast from Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling, a radio show calledIts Wheeling Steelentered homes nationwide from 1936-1944. Millions gathered around their radios on Sunday afternoons to hear amateur musicians debut their talents in front of a live audience.
A reenactment of the historic radio sensation returns to Wheeling at 8 p.m. Friday (April 18) withRemembering �€~Its Wheeling Steel,Part II.The performance at the WesBanco Arena will transport the audience back to the shows heyday.
When people think of West Virginia history, they dont think of big bands and popular radio programs,said John Cuthbert, curator of the WVU LibrariesWest Virginia and Regional History Collection.This is a fascinating story and one of national importance.
Three years ago, Wheeling Symphony Executive Director Susan C. Hogan contacted Cuthbert about developing an event to recognize the broadcast. Organizers decided that rather than simply featuring music from the show, they would reenact the program. Cuthbert was charged with writing a script.
To achieve that task, the curator relied heavily on the archives in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection, housed on the sixth floor of WVU s Downtown Campus Library. Cuthbert drew inspiration by reading scripts from original shows and listening to nearly 300 hours of programs on tape and CD, mostly while driving in his car.
The script for the firstRemembering �€~Its Wheeling Steelevent, which happened in 2006, contained many quotes from the original radio show along with some new material written in the manner of the program. This time around, Cuthbert wrote an original script reflective of what would have been said on the show.
Its always a delight to be able to draw upon our holdings to undertake a collaborative project with other organizations in the state,Cuthbert said,and I especially love being associated with productions that expose how diverse West Virginias cultural history truly is.
Its Wheeling Steelbegan as a marketing tool to improve employee relations and promote the factorys products, but quickly became a trendsetter in the field of homegrown musical variety shows. At its peak, more than 80 radio stations aired the program, and it became the fifth most popular show in NBC s lineup.
WVU even played a role in the history of the program by hosting a broadcast as part of a World War II fundraising drive in 1943. A packed WVU Field House brought in $663,000 toward the construction of bombers.
One could label the broadcast as theAmerican Idolof its day because its chief selling point was that Wheeling Steel employees and their families provided the musical entertainment.
For some, that moment at the microphone led to careers in the entertainment business. A number of musicians later played with the Wheeling Steel Orchestra, and a few of them were hired by major nationally touring bands.
These were people who came out of the factory,Cuthbert noted.They were not professionals, and they had a chance to play their instrument in front of a national audience.
Remembering �€~Its Wheeling Steel,Part IIwill recreate the original historic radio show for an evening. Dialogue and music will carry viewers along the shows timeline, from the Depression to the close of World War II.
As with the initial production two years ago, singing ensemble Five by Design will accompany the Wheeling Symphony, and the action on stage will follow Cuthberts script. A new addition this year is West Virginia native and formerHollywood Squareshost Peter Marshall, who will play the role of the programs colorful emcee,The Old Timer.
Peter Marshall is a very talented and diverse guy who began his career as a comedian and singer,Cuthbert said.This will be a wonderful opportunity for people to see him doing what he does best.
Expectations are high forRemembering �€~Its Wheeling Steel,Part II.Two years ago, the production drew a packed house at Capitol Music Hall, breaking the Wheeling Symphonys 10-year attendance record, while receiving stellar reviews.
For more information and tickets, visithttp://www.wheelingsymphony.org.