Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

“Hearing Voices”: Harrisburg filmmaker strives to complete documentary on the troubled history of American radio

Michael Kacey always loved old-time radio.

The Shamokin, Pa., native would listen to his parents talk about their favorite radio shows like “The Shadow” and “Lights Out” when he was younger. About 10 years ago, he found himself wanting to watch a documentary about the heyday of radio. However, he couldn’t find any. So, he decided to make one himself.

Next week, Kacey will hold a fundraiser for his documentary, “Hearing Voices,” at Gamut Theatre in downtown Harrisburg. Although the documentary started as a tale of the history of “Golden Age” radio, as he dug deeper into the subject, it quickly morphed into an investigation into diversity and racism on the airwaves.

“I realized why no one was telling this story,” he said. “There are incredible high points in radio broadcasting, but there are uncomfortable low points.”

Before diving into filmmaking, Kacey was an actor living in Los Angeles with his wife. He scored a couple of small roles in “Beverly Hill 90210,” the ’90s Nickelodeon show “All That,” and a Cracker Jack commercial. Around 2002, he moved into filmmaking with his indie film “Daybreak,” which Kacey calls a more sinister version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

Around 2009, he dove into making his documentary after attending an old-time radio convention. While conducting research, he found that the first hit radio station was hosted by Amos and Andy, two actors who wore blackface during their performances.

The more he read, the more he found out that was more than just Amos and Andy. American radio had a history of racism–from white people using “black voice” and cultural appropriation of music to simply ignoring what was happening to minorities in the country.

“The more I read, in some cases, the more uncomfortable I became,” Kacey said. “You step back and see that everything is being packaged for middle-class, white America.”

Over the course of 10 years, Kacey conducted interviews with a wide variety of people, such as Larry King, Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice, Dick Van Patten of “Eight is Enough” and others.

“It is really an investigation into diversity on the airwaves in America and asking: Have we paid the unintended price for losing the fairness doctrine, allowing large ownership, and essentially the abandonment of serving the public interest?” he said.

During the fundraiser, Kacey will screen the proposed opening 10 minutes of the film, which features interviews from some of the prominent figures he interviewed, as well as some who are less familiar.

Kacey is hoping to raise an additional $80,000 to make a total of $275,000 for the documentary. Along with the screening, Kacey is having a silent auction featuring the clapperboard they used for Larry King’s scenes and a signed copy of his book, “Anything Goes!” The event will be also be catered by Spice Grill. Tickets are $50, which includes two free drinks from the Gamut Theatre bar.

“It’s a story that hasn’t been told before,” Kacey said. “It’s about knowing that, without a functioning media system, democracy will fail—not suffer, it’s going to fail—and it’s happening right before our eyes,” he said. “I’m hoping this film, the people that see it, will understand more than they did before. I hope it inspires other filmmakers really plumb the depths of some of these topics.”

Kacey also hopes the film inspires other movie and TV producers to come to Harrisburg. After moving here in 2016, he was impressed by Harrisburg’s art scene and the community itself.

“There is no reason that Harrisburg can’t have film and TV shows come to this area the way Pittsburgh and Philadelphia do,” he said. “Everything we need is here, starting with the people, the community. I am very happy to be here. I feel like it is my community now.”

The “Hearing Voices” documentary fundraiser is Thursday, Aug. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in Gamut Theatre. Tickets are available here. For more information on the documentary visit hearingvoicesthemovie.com.

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