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Fans eat up zombie dramas created by Chapman alumni

January 4, 2011

Can something so old school as radio-style drama still capture an audience?

So it would seem, particularly when the drama combines some steadfast last-man-standing soldiers fighting the good fight in a world turned topsy-turvy by growling zombies running amok across Southern California. We’re Alive – A Zombie Story of Survival is a free podcast drama created and produced by Chapman University alumni Shane Salk ’08 theatre performance and Kc Wayland ’08 writing and directing. And the hunger for their creation is monstrous. Since it debuted in May, 2009, the series has exceeded 2 million downloads.

 “It just keeps going. More and more people are just grabbing onto the series. We’re using as much social networking as we can to spread the word as fast as possible. I mean how else would someone find something like this?” said Wayland, who was the Cheverton Award Winner for his graduating class and is now a digital applications specialist at Dodge College.

In addition to fan popularity, the series is attracting critical acclaim. It was named one of the top 10 podcasts of the year by Microsoft and has been featured on and and has won the Ogle Award for Best Horror Audio Production, The Communicator Award in Audio Production and was the finalist for the Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama- Long Form.

Salk and Wayland chose the radio-drama style – what many now call “theater of the mind” for the podcasting era – partly because film production is so expensive, but also out of affection for the power of voice. While Wayland won numerous awards for his 2005 documentary 365 Boots on the Ground, which chronicled his tour of duty as an Army reservist in Iraq, Wayland’s senior thesis was managing the sound production for an animated project. He was struck by how much life the story had even without the animation. Salk recalls listening to vintage radio dramas reissued on cassette tapes when he was growing up. Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Abbot and Costello and even an early incarnation of I Love Lucy were among his favorites.

“I saw how much power you can get just from the voices alone, without the help of any visuals,” Wayland says, who is the lead writer for the series, now in its 17th chapter with more on the way.

But Salk and Wayland’s listeners don’t “tune that radio dial” to find their way to the weekly episodes that go up on Mondays, but rather visit and listen directly at their computers or choose from a variety of downloadable formats, including iTunes. They also have the option of joining discussion forums and chatting about the show on the zombie Facebook page. At the heart of the franchise, though, is that oldest interactive tool – the imagination. Zombie lust lures them in, but the magic of audio drama keeps audiences coming back for more, Wayland says.

“We are in a sub-genre that is very popular, but that’s the hook we just use to get them in there. Once we have them they realize this is about characters and story,” Wayland says.

For the time being “We’re Alive” is free and the only income for Salk and Wayland is from modest sales of T-shirts and boxed sets of Season 1. But they have been approached by companies interested in changing that model, perhaps as a comic book series or other format. But they say they aren’t in a hurry and want to continue to build their fan following with the free podcasts.

Besides, zombies are tough to beat. Just consider the ominous title of the series’ latest chapter — “There Might Be Others.” Let’s hope so.

One Comment leave one →
  1. coke&malibu! permalink
    January 4, 2011 10:58 pm

    This is indeed a great podcast. It’s my first experience getting into a radio drama & I am totally loving it! My favorite podcast by far. Check it out!

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