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Back on the Wireless: Old School Creativity Boom

Tse recording 'Apocolypse Song' radio series. Photo: Supplied.
Cassandra Tse. Photo: Supplied.
Just as fashion comes in cycles, radio fiction is making a comeback - but with a digital makeover.


Many moons ago - radio was more than just a place for top 40 songs, shock jocks and talkback crank. It was a hive of creativity. 

Radio fiction series have inspired many a writer and performer over the years - and now in the modern age, they’re making somewhat of a comeback.

Podcasts have become pretty mainstream over the last few years and struck by the intimacy of them, Wellington creative Cassandra Tse has created a new radio drama series called Apocalypse Songs.

The show has been airing weekly on Wellington's RadioActive with the season finale at 11.30am on Saturday 1 August. The beauty being that unlike the golden era of radio, these can be heard on demand online as well and you can even binge listen to them. A great addition to the end of the week house clean!

All in the name

Apocalypse Songs, is a spooky title, especially now. But it wasn’t the pandemic that sparked Tse’s work process, it was thanks to the new funding rounds from Creative New Zealand and the Wellington City Council this winter. In fact, her radio drama has sat on the backburner since 2017, only now coming to fruition. Which ironically fits the theme of the show.

The five episode mockumentary series follows a local radio station reporter Amy Louise Chen (Tse) investigating the tapes of Clara Wilson (Catherine Gavigan-Binnie), an obscure 1960s musician whose cryptic lyrics seem to have predicted the future. Amy joins forces with Clara’s great-nephew Josh (Dryw McArthur) to investigate the mystery of Clara’s “Apocalypse Songs”. With a new episode released once a week, a week has passed in the world of Amy Lousie and her investigation, when you, the listener return. 

It's earning rave reviews as well, with John Anderson from Theatrereview labelling it "a real milestone for this genre (fictional podcasts) in Aotearoa."

Intimate experience

Cassandra Tse. Photo: Supplied.

The “podcast boom” was definitely an inspiration for Tse, as there’s been some modern advances in the creative realm. We all know in the arts, it’s hard to make money and producing your own radio show is a non-profitable feat. 

It’s the intimacy of the medium that strikes Tse, as podcasts/radio dramas “are generally consumed as an individual experience through headphones, and this piece was heavily influenced by some recent fiction podcast works that I really enjoyed such as Limetown, Homecoming and Alice Isn't Dead (which she definitely recommends adding to your listening lists).” 

Navigating the alert levels while creating 

Tse recording 'Apocolypse Song' radio series. Photo: Supplied.

They had planned to record the series via Zoom - and boy, have we had enough of “Can you hear me?” “You’re muted” in our daily lives! It would have been a real task, so luckily due to the reduction in alert levels, Tse and the team were able to record the series in the same room. Now we all can download Apocalypse Songs on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts to hear new hands shape an old form.

Tse says it was a real joy to work with Catherine Gavigan-Binnie (who played Clara) and Katie Morton (composition), who were skillfully able to create music in the style of the character, Clara. Working closely with Gavigan-Binnie, the two created a spooky sound that fully evokes "Kate Bush on acid" as one of the characters describes it. Morton loved the challenge of composing music to such weird and cryptic lyrics like: "I have stones in my hands and nails in my feet, I am a dead undying woman, made of rotting meat." 

Tse laughs, and says that she couldn’t have created the series without fiancé James Cain, as the director. The lyrics certainly paint quite the picture and listening to the show, you can zone out of your own world for an hour at a time, engrossed in the mystery that is Clara.

It’s a busy time creatively for Tse, who also has a short season at Circa Theatre That’s All She Wrote, a musical cabaret celebrating female and non-binary writers that she has written and will perform in. A very different show, also directed by Cain. The season runs 11–15 August.