On New Year’s Eve 1936, Fairhaven High School burned to the ground. In 1929, a coal mine underneath Bellingham’s downtown was sealed for mysterious reasons. Could this be the work of a ghost, or maybe some shadowy organization? Through radio, “Bellingham Terror” unveils the ghostly, albeit fictional, stories surrounding these local tragedies.
The historical horror radio drama “Bellingham Terror” is planning a comeback for May 2017 as well as a holiday special, set to release in December 2016. The show’s weekly episodes have attracted thousands of listeners.
Bryna Sweeney and her husband Riley Sweeney write and produce the series, set in 1930s Bellingham. The duo voice the first season’s main characters: June Harper and David Phillips.
“It’s part ‘Twilight Zone,’ part ‘The Thin Man,’” Riley Sweeney said. “So it’s a little bit of comedy, a little of Lovecraft-y monsters and a lot of local history.”
Inspiration for “Bellingham Terror” came from old radio dramas, like “The Shadow” and “Suspense.” The author H.P Lovecraft, known for popularizing cosmic horror, was a big influence on how they wrote the show, Riley Sweeney said.
“We like all the horror, science and fantasy fiction,” he said. “We’re on the same boat with that. There are elements of that sprinkle throughout the show.”
Radio is the theater of the mind, Riley Sweeney said. They transmit information to the audience by sound, but what the audience pictures is completely their own creation.
“I like that magic,” he said. “I think we are losing it because everything now is video.”
The Sweeney’s were fascinated with Bellingham’s history and the radio serials of old. In 2009, they decided to make their own show and began brainstorming and writing a script.
“It just started kind of blossoming, and getting bigger and bigger until we suddenly started writing a script,” Bryna Sweeney said.
After completing the script, they contacted Spark Radio, a community-based radio station operated by the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham, and were able to access the radio’s studio.
“[Spark Radio] was really welcome us with opened arms,” Riley Sweeney said. “They encouraged us and worked with us to make sure that’s up to broadcast standard.”
“Anybody can tell a story, all they need is having a good story to tell.”
The two, along with other actors 41 actors, spent eight months recording and editing the first season to release on 102.3 KMRE.
“The actors brought their own creativities and energies to it,” Riley Sweeney said. “It becomes completely different than what we imagined,… I thought [a scene that we were recording was] going to be super creepy, but it was actually funny.”
They estimated that each episode took about between 15 and 20 hours of editing to produce, Riley Sweeney said. That is a lot of time for a half an hour show.
Choosing the right sound effects to fit the stories’ mood is not easy, Riley Sweeney said. He used computers to make the sounds. Sometimes, he just covered it up with music, he said.
To effectively express a vintage and antique atmosphere, they spent days listening to classical music until they found something exciting, dramatic, scary, eerie and funny, Bryna Sweeney said.
The team created and recorded sound effects in the studio, so making them sound natural is the most difficult part of the process, Riley Sweeney said.
“When someone is developing photos in an old style with a tray and they tap the tray; that noise was really hard to get because you have to get a metal object on a metal object,” he explained. “It sounded weird the first time we did it. It sounded too heavy, like somebody was wracking it. We needed it more delicate.”
The sound effects of footsteps on the wooden floor, footsteps walking on a carpets, or footsteps running on a wet floor all sound different. If it was any other way, people could tell, Riley Sweeney said.
“We have enough materials for two or three more seasons,” he said. “Anybody can tell a story, all they need is having a good story to tell.”
The first season aired every Tuesday and Saturday from May 3 to July 5 on KMRE-LP 102.3 FM. All 10 episodes of the season can be heard at on the show’s website, www.bellinghamterror.com.