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BARD Project: The Black Mass: Introduction

THE BLACK MASS 1963 – 1970

Erik Bauersfeld introduction:

This was the first series of radio dramas I produced for KPFA, Pacifica’s radio station in Berkeley and it’s associated stations in Los Angeles and New York City. It followed several years of apprenticeship, recording and editing my readings & dramas, which continued for several years after I became Director of the Drama & Literature Department. John Whiting,production Director for the station worked with me during those years and wrote a consummate account of our production partnership, which is printed below. He was the dramaturge for the series, selecting many of the authors and was already experienced in producing dramatic presentations at the station before I came along. So it was a lucky collaboration for me in pursuit of my return after so many years, to a first ambition, making radio drama. John designed the opening format for the Black Mass series, adding some of my homage to early radio’s The Witches Tale, from which I was transformed into an ominous storyteller with his “circle of empathy”. For a time thereafter I was confined to the “monstrous and abhorred” world of the Necronomicon and it’s legendary Black Mass. Arguably, not all of our productions lived up to those of “the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred.”

Originally, the series was designed for a broadcast starting at eleven thirty PM and ending around midnight. It was to be a collection of horror tales, selected by Whiting and the department director. Their suggestions led me on to material of similar caliber, stories I believed to be worth bringing to listeners. Eventually I did most of the selecting and all of the adapting, much of the acting. The talents already at KPFA and in other Bay Area theatre work were always interested in radio drama, even on a voluntary basis. Soon I would discover the fine art of funding from national and other sources with provisions for our talents, but the Black Mass remained a non-profit entertainment.

The titles below, after the first few, are not in the order of their production. All Hallows, however, was the first. We began with a tale by Walter de la Mare, about the haunted restoration of an ancient cathedral, but not by Godly forces.

During the years of rebroadcast, the opening Black Mass format was sometimes changed. The shorter individual stories were broadcast separately or were differently paired to fill out a new time spot, or worse, were taken from our department shelves to fill a missing scheduled program. Introductions and commentary were removed from the tapes, sometimes never to be replaced, sometimes given new formats such as our USA network presentations of BBC plays in the form of Masterpiece Theatre. In the 1980’s, 13 of the programs were selected for a series called Tales From the Shadows, for KCRW, in Santa Monica. Two of the tales (Lobster Salad & The Tell Tale Heart) were newly performed with production and sound design by James McKee.

But luckily for us, John Whiting, when he left KPFA for London many years ago, took with him the many Black Mass programs for which he did the technical production. They are safe and sound in his London archives and recently were made available to new and surprisingly appreciative listeners by way of Whiting’s web site. John wrote a short account of our work together reprinted below.

Fortunately I was able to preserve many of the original broadcasts, and all of the original stories. All Hallows was the first and it bears some of the effects of my earlier readings of literature, in which I hadn’t yet released claim to all the voices I could do. Fortunately All Hallows has only two.

To read more about Black Mass and the correspondence between Erik Bauersfeld and John Whitting, click below for Whiting’s: A Historical Footnote.


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