UMFM Show Spotlight: The Sydney Shade Serial

The UMFM Show Spotlight is monthly column showcasing various programming on the University of Manitoba’s campus and community radio station. To recommend a show for spotlight, contact

The Sydney Shade Serial

The live radio drama serial, like bear-baiting or heretic-burning, is an entertainment form largely consigned to the annals of history. Yet, for half an hour each week the forgotten form lives on through campus radio. The Sydney Shade Serial creator Dylan Ferguson discusses the pitfalls of live broadcast, radio as imagination, and the increasingly metaphysical adventures of Detective Sydney Shade.

M : You’ve constructed a pretty elaborate foundational mythology for The Sydney Shade Serial involving Latin American visionaries and automatic writing fevers. What’s the real story of the show’s origins?

D.F.: I had previously had a show on UMFM where I talked about obscure films. And I just started getting really into radio serials fairly recently, and I thought it would be fun to make one. I talked to the program director about it, and he’s kind of a comic-book guy and he got excited, and I guess saw the potential in continuing drama and fast-paced campy adventure.

M : What about radio serials interests you?

D.F.: What’s really attractive to me is the interaction between the audience and the medium. You’re constantly appealing to the listener in a lot of different ways.

M : Radio, in particular, seems to invite imaginative experience.

D.F.: Yeah, you need to fill things in. Whereas, in television, you’re kind of being tricked into thinking you’re experiencing something. You know, you laugh when they laugh. You make fun of somebody when they tell you to make fun of somebody. Then, after half an hour, you feel like your time has been spent doing something. But you’ve never really been invited to imagine anything at all. You’ve been herded.

M : Are any classic radio serials a touchstone for you?

D.F.: Yeah, the main one is The Shadow, the classic detective-superhero serial. I think 1938-39 was its peak. A lot of the recurring things I have in Sydney Shade are played out in The Shadow. Like, The Shadow often ends with a narrator coming in saying really over-the-top things like “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.” So I always try to end the show with some ridiculous metaphor for crime, sometimes directly referencing The Shadow, because it’s an excellent show and worth referencing.

M : Why broadcast live?

D.F.: I think the audience feels that much more a part of it if you’re telling them that we’re doing it right now. You know, you laugh with us, you laugh at us, and we’re tricking you as little as possible.

M : Has anything ever gone terribly awry during broadcast?

D.F.: In Episode Two, William Jordan, the actor who plays Sydney Shade, accidentally had an older version of the script, and nobody noticed until right at the end when he shot someone out of nowhere, way before cue. The actors are all really good, though, and if I wasn’t completely confident in their ability to improvise, I wouldn’t being doing it live.

M : Do you have a set story arc?

D.F.: I have a number of ideas where it could go, and it kind of depends on where I want to end it. It’s an open-ended show right now. Every episode we’re trying to push forward. We’ve established the characters, gotten comfortable with them, and now we can start experimenting with the whole thing. The next show is going to take place on three different time planes.

M : Different time planes? Uh oh. Do you need to be a nerd to “get” Sydney Shade?

D.F.: No, I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t consider myself a nerd. I think the show is accessible, you know, it has car chases, fight scenes, and some slapstick. But I definitely want it to get increasingly surreal as it goes on. One of the great things about campus radio is that it’s a place to explore your more esoteric interests, and find like-minded people through it.

Catch “The Sydney Shade Serial” weekly, Wednesdays at 6 p.m. on 101.5 UMFM.