Free Thyself

ON A RECENT road trip to NYC, I was lucky enough to hear several installments of Unshackled, a radio shows that's been on the air since 1950, broadcast on a multitude of stations in the U.S., the U.K. and the Philippines. It is produced in Chicago by the Pacific Garden Mission; they do have a mission, and it's a simple one: Bring to life the true stories of people who have turned their lives around. This process involves translating their actual letters into vignettes performed by a cast of actors and actresses, and providing the accompaniment of Wurlitzer organ music and plenty of noir-ish effects.

This relentless, intense, old-style reality programming is a great antidote to the feel-good potluck of nostalgia and witticisms made famous by A Prairie Home Companion. Many of the stories reveal the sordid tales of criminals and other assorted creeps, whose minds we enter via macabre monologues. Having casually wasted their lives throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s, these characters operate under extreme hubris and cynicism. They know it all--or so they think--and live with neither respect for humanity nor fear of a higher power. But the fangs of reality soon begin to sink in, and their waywardness gets answered with a laundry list of afflictions: divorce, chemical abuse, unemployment, stints in the clink, a general sense of angst and dissatisfaction. It is when they are backed into a corner, caught in the throes of an unyielding crisis, that they have their epiphany and are saved by You-Know-Who. Catch the drama locally on KNOF FM 95.3, Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. Will your letter be next?

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