I enjoy my work for Boomer and Senior News because I get to meet really interesting, creative active older people. And I have learned so much about how to be a healthy and happy older person. Fred Crafts is admirable because of his long career as an arts critic in Oregon and at the Los Angeles Times, but also because he started a theater company in his retirement that provides a great outlet for local talent. Radio Redux reproduces classic television shows and movies as vintage radio programs. Click to view the full Fred Crafts December 2013 PDF.
Fred Crafts – A Man With a Plan with a Microphone in His Hand
By Vanessa Salvia
When 73-year-old Fred Crafts retired in 2004, he didn’t have a plan. He knew it was time to begin unplugging himself from his lengthy career as a journalist and arts critic, but beyond that, he wasn’t sure what was going to occupy his time. Crafts is not the idle type, but despite that, he had no inkling that he would soon be leading a repertory theatre company. That all came later, though, after he experienced an unexpected setback.
“I didn’t really have a plan for my retirement but Mother Nature seemed to have a plan for me because I came down with cancer soon after,” he recalls. Crafts retired in June and was diagnosed with cancer by November. “2005 became the ‘Cancer Year’ of treatment and recovery.”
Despite the health scare, Crafts knew he was not the type to sit around doing nothing. “I’d been busy doing multiple things all of my life and I knew I wasn’t going to last very long, but what to do?” he says. In 2004, Crafts was president of the Eugene Rotary Club and casted Rotarians for a performance of “A Christmas Carol” He knew the members would be unlikely to have time for rehearsals and memorizations, so he gave them scripts for 30-minute production to read aloud as a live staged radio program. That planted the seed for Radio Redux, a theatre troupe that stages re-tellings of programs from the “golden age” of radio, 1935 to 1960. For Crafts, having a project to dedicate time for was “a lifesaver.” And, he says, it fills a niche for seniors who remember this type of entertainment from their youth. “It’s a trip down memory lane for them, and for other people it’s a new experience,” Crafts says. “It’s fun to introduce people to that and preserve what I think is a wonderful way of telling stories.”
Telling stories is what Crafts calls “the thread of his life.” Crafts fondly recalls time spent as a child growing up in Eugene, listening to radio programs, and he wanted to be on the radio. But the time he was old enough to be on the radio, the shows were off the air. He wasn’t particularly interested in performing, though he did enjoy playing bass for a jazz combo, but the new rock and roll he was hearing on the radio piqued his interest.
At the age of 16 he took a part-time weekend job as a DJ playing rock and roll records (“Earth Angel” by The Penguins, a 1953 hit, was an early favorite). That early training in broadcasting helped polish his already deep and robust speaking voice. He moved from the independent radio station to Eugene’s CBS station, where he was asked to contribute a news story. “The first story I was to cover was the Miss Eugene contest,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how to do it so I took my mother with me! It was a big success so I became the radio news director while I was going to college.”
After graduating with a journalism degree, Crafts went on to work in a variety of radio stations in town, spending decades at the Register-Guard, at CBS in Los Angeles, and later as the fine arts editor for the LA Times and as an adjunct journalism professor at the University of Oregon. Crafts founded the First Friday Art Walk and was named Eugene’s Ambassador for the Arts in 2008. In 2013, Crafts was honored with the Age Knows No Limits award, a project that celebrates older citizens and the many ways they contribute and remain active and healthy. “It’s a great time of life,” he says. “You’ve done a lot of things, you have a lot of experiences, you’ve got a lot of energy, and it’s great to find an outlet for that.
Crafts is active in his church and acts as judge for art competitions, and as a master of ceremonies for countless community service and arts events. “I don’t come from a business background, I come from an arts background,” he says, “so my natural focus is on the artistic side but because of Radio Redux I’ve had to learn the business side and doing all of that is quite fun.” His wife, Marti Gerdes, also a journalist, is “the sounding board and the support system” for Radio Redux.
Word of Crafts’ successful Rotarian production of “A Christmas Carol” spread, and Pleasant Hill Theatre wanted to get involved. The show was expanded to an hour and produced as a benefit for their youth program, using the theatre’s own actors, for several years. Eventually, Willamalane Parks and Recreation sponsored his troupe and they moved to the Wildish Theatre in Springfield. Once again, Crafts says he didn’t have a plan. “I just did it because it seemed like a fun thing to do,” he says. “We put it together and threw it out to the public and on Wednesday before the show we had sold two tickets and by Friday the Wildish Theatre was sold out. That’s 280 seats! I was astonished. The actors kept coming back saying, ‘Fred, there’s a lot of people out there,’ and I would say, ‘oh yeah, right.’ Then, ‘Fred, it looks like it’s filling up,’ and that was the beginning of all this.”
The first season of Radio Redux, in 2009-10, opened with “The War of the Worlds,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Hitchiker,” “Walter Mitty,” and Stagecoach.” Now entering its fifth year, Crafts says the success snuck up on him. “You know the saying ‘putting one foot in front of the other?’ It was like putting one show in front of the other. When I did the first one I didn’t have the second one in mind because I didn’t know the first was would be a success. Eventually, I realized, we’re doing seasons.”
In October, Radio Redux presented “Sam Spade and the Buddha’s Tooth Caper,” a thrilling gum-shoe detective story. In early December they produced “It’s a Wonderful Life,” followed by two more shows in February and April. “I see how we’ve struck a nerve,” he notes. “After every show people come up to me and say, ‘that was the best show ever, you just keep getting better and better,’ which is very satisfying to me because it means we’re improving.
Now, seven years into the project, Craft is starting to make plans. He’s focusing on the sustainability of Radio Redux, so that it can continue when he can no longer manage it, by turning it into a non-profit. “I don’t do it for money but it has to have some money because we have to pay rent and insurance and I pay the actors a little bit,” he says. He keeps the cost down by not paying himself. His office is at home, and all of the storage of the props is in his garage. “I realized last year that this is actually real,” he says. “It’s been one of the big surprises and big joys of my life. It’s just a real blessing to have all these new people in my life.”