Pundits Turn To Podcast: Journalists’ recorded Gridiron showcases music

Pundits Turn To Podcast: Journalists’ recorded Gridiron showcases music

Now in the 18th year of its revival, the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron Show met the challenge of the pandemic by turning into a podcast.

Admittedly, it loses something without the on-stage antics of former TV newsman Steve Voorhies as Dr. Red Neck, former political reporter Brenda Blagg as Aunt Titty and Rusty Turner, editor of this newspaper, as former President Donald Trump. But listening without those visual distractions makes the music really memorable. It takes brilliant and twisted minds to think about the closing of the I-40 bridge into Memphis and tell that story via the three-part harmony of “Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles. Or turn “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon into an ode to Liz Cheney, “It’s Not Your Daddy’s GOP.” Or come up with a first act finale titled “Time-Life’s Greatest QAnon Hits” and sing it to Rolling Stones classics like “Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Jumping’ Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” “Beast of Burden” and “Brown Sugar.”

“I love playing guitar for Gridiron because those in the show have so much enthusiasm, and the rewritten lyrics are usually a hoot,” says guitarist Dave Bostwick. “The production always has a fun vibe. Our current music setup seems to work well because Kristi Peterson can lead the traditional show tunes on keyboard, and I can lead most of the folk and rock songs on guitar.” (Courtesy Photo)

And that’s just Act I. In Act II, you’ll hear Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” sung by Turner as Trump and visit the popular TV bar in “Cheers” for songs like “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” “Mr. Postman,” “Delta Dawn” and of course, the “Cheers Theme,” all with lyrics that reflect on 18 months of masks, mandates and missed opportunities.

Kathrine Shurlds, who spent many years teaching journalism at the University of Arkansas, produced this year’s Gridiron show, which features a cast of reporters and editors from the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — in which the What’s Up! magazine appears — and other media outlets, UA faculty and staff, and friends of the Society of Professional Journalists, hosts of the production. Several of the actors and singers double as writers in a process that starts in July.

“We toss around concepts and ideas with no idea of what to do with them,” says Dave Edmark, who was part of the group that founded the Gridiron for its first show in 1978. “At that point, somebody volunteers to take a stab at writing a skit or song for a particular idea. If nobody volunteers, then somebody is drafted. If somebody misses a meeting, then that’s a good way to get appointed!”

Edmark says this year, two skits — “Time-Life’s Greatest QAnon Hits” and “Where Everybody Knows Your Pain” — were “designed to be the big production numbers when we thought we’d be in person on stage, but it turned out that they worked well for an audio-only production.”

Shurlds says the plan to transition to a podcast came “painfully and late.”

Steve Voorhies reprises his regular role of Dr. Red Neck in this year’s Gridiron Show podcast. (Courtesy Photo)

“About three weeks before the show, the three oldest actors finally decided they couldn’t risk being in the extremely close quarters backstage at Arkansas Public Theatre, and we also feared having extremely small audiences,” she says. “So the cast voted to do the podcast instead.”

“The recording worked well because we turned it over to people who knew what they were doing,” says Edmark. “A class of UA journalism students hosted us in the UATV studios with top quality professional equipment. We stood in front of several microphones and read our scripts. We didn’t need to memorize anything, but … we recorded the whole show twice so the audio editors could piece together the best segments. The students added some sound effects and tightened our gaps to produce a smooth program from start to finish.”

Shurlds says because the podcast is free, “this is a good time to see for yourself the level of writing and performance.”

And Heath Anderson, a UA student who helped oversee the recording and editing process, says you don’t have to be a news junkie to laugh along.

“I’m not interested in politics, but … the writers are talented, and the way the cast delivers lines [is] great,” he says. “I’m pretty sure most of them have been doing the show for years, so they are as experienced as the ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast at this point.”



NWA Gridiron Show

This year’s show, titled “Open for Funny Business” and presented as a podcast, can be found free at nwagridiron.com. Participants hope viewers will donate to the Society of Professional Journalists for scholarships.

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