Theater of the Mind/My First Radio; Why Radio Works for Mystery

Nancy Cole SilvermanNancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. In 2001, Silverman retired from news and copywriting to write fiction full time. In 2014, Silverman signed with Henery Press for her new mystery series, The Carol Childs’ Mysteries. The first of the series, Shadow of Doubt, debuted in December 2014 and the second, Beyond a Doubt, debuted July 2015. The third in the series, Without A Doubt, was released in May 2016. Silverman also has written a number of short stories, many of them influenced by her experiences growing up in the Arizona desert. For more information visit www.nancycolesilverman.com

When I was a kid, I remember listening to late night mystery theater on the radio. Those old radio plays whose transmissions mysteriously found their way through my bedroom window in the black of night, shadowed images in my mind that were more powerful than a big screen cinema.

Now don’t get me wrong. I grew up loving movies and watching all the popular fifty and sixties TV shows. But, there was nothing like late night radio to sharpen my senses of mystery, and while I didn’t know it then, would prepare me years later for writing for the blank page.

When I was seven-years-old, my dad and I made my first crystal diode radio set.  We strung the antenna through the grapefruit orchards in my backyard, and I had my own headphones, which seemed super cool to me. I could listen to radio stations thousand of miles away. I tuned to KOY in Colorado or KNX in Los Angeles, all from beneath the sheets of my bed in the middle of the Arizona desert, where I slept with a flashlight to keep the bad guys away.

To me, radio embodies everything that is mysterious. Faceless voices. Piercing screams. Hollow sound effects.  Scratchy signals that black out and then bleed into the night from far off lands.

My fascination with radio turned into a career. I spent twenty-five years in the business. Most of it news and talk radio. I wrote everything from news to commercial copy, and I retired as the general manager of a sports talks radio station. Proof that God has a sense of humor!  I’m not a sports babe.  But when the opportunity presented itself for me to pitch the job, I did what any other ambitious female might do. I leaned in.

When I was very young, I was asked to ride the midnight signal.  That’s the equivalent of spot checking the signal, driving to the outermost areas of the station’s signal and listening to make sure there’s no interference.  I think it was more of a joke than a serious request from the station’s engineer,  and when I did it – at least partially – he appeared surprised. Years later I would use that experience in a short story. It was beyond spooky. But then, like radio signals, mystery is made up of that which we can not see or that we can see but can not hear or understand.

Without a DoubtIn 2001, I retired from radio, but it wasn’t long before I found myself itching to write about what I knew.  I think the story picks the writer.  And the stories I’ve penned with The Carol Childs Mysteries have picked me.  They’re not too dissimilar from those I either witnessed or worked on during my career, although for the sake of fiction, they are much spicier.

The only real difference between my career in radio and my protagonist, Carol Childs, is that I wanted a middle-aged woman, who was at a crossroads in her life. She’s been given a chance to reinvent herself as a reporter.  Something she’s longed to do.  Of course, with opportunity comes challenge. Carol’s challenge comes in the way of her boss, a peach-faced whiz-kid who calls her the World’s Oldest Cub Reporter.

Conflict, mystery and that blank page.  I love it, and I hope you enjoy reading the series as much as I have in writing it.

Stay Tuned,

Nancy Cole Silverman

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10 thoughts on “Theater of the Mind/My First Radio; Why Radio Works for Mystery

  1. I’ve never listened to a mystery story on radio, but perhaps it’s similar to listen to it as an audiobook, which I’ve come to love. I’d love to go back in time to listen to those radio shows. They sound fascinating. 🙂
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

    • Diane,
      I’d agree i think that’s where audio books got their idea. Mystery theater is still a popular format on late night radio. I know KNX, here in Los Angeles, carried it for years and is still available online.
      Thank you for your reply.ll

  2. Being really old, I listened to all the old radio shows, preferably mysteries, But my little Philco also picked up police calls at night, and I heard when they found the dismembered body of the Black Dahlia. Scary! Great post and sounds like a wonderful sieges.

  3. I too listened to radio shows, and I remember as a very little girl hearing my brother’s radio playing “The Shadow” when I was supposed to be asleep. There’s nothing like listening to a story on the radio. It takes me back to hearing someone read to me at bedtime. A good story on the radio is magic.

    • You’re right it is like someone reading you a bedtime story. But without the presence of an actual person there the mind conjures up all kinds of ideas. i’ve always found that a great exerciset for writing fiction.

  4. My family did not have much in the way of working radios. I remember mostly TV, very early with only one or two stations and test patterns on most. I watched many shows of families sitting around listening to radio stories though and felt like I was there. This post is another good case of an author writing what she knows.

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