What one of its creators humbly posits is “the best radio show ever made” will enjoy renewed attention with the publication of a book dedicated to exploring the world of “The Great Eastern,” a satirical comedy about Newfoundland’s institutions which aired on CBC Radio from 1994 to 1999.
UWindsor history professor Steven Palmer was one of the show’s writers. He appreciates the perspective of Stan Dragland, author of the book-length essay Strangers & Others: The Great Eastern.
“I’ve tried to write partly in the spirit of the program, which is irreverent and comic,” says Dragland, a professor emeritus of English at Western University, now living in St. John’s.
Dr. Palmer, who penned the show with Ed Riche and Mack Furlong, said that Dragland imagined the trio as a collective writing voice. That is how the show presented itself, and the final credits were always fictional.
“The great radio professionals who worked at CBC St. John’s often lent us their voices for parts and cameos, and it gave the show a beautiful vocal range,” says Palmer.
The show called itself Newfoundland’s cultural magazine, hosted by the fictional Paul Moth, a drug addict with a fetish for shoes.
“We were thinking of a kind of Homer Simpson meets Frank Zappa character — ‘hip but humbled’ was his motto — a guy with a long history in the arts who has had a big fall,” says Palmer.
In Dragland’s telling, “The Great Eastern” embodies the Newfoundland of the late 1990s.
“We were writing from a place of difference; that difference doesn't exist nearly as palpably now,” Palmer says, adding that at the time, many in the province were still sore about its lost independence.
“Dragland definitely understands a lot of what we were trying to accomplish — the architecture of the show, the complex sound production and mixes, the creation of a parallel universe.
“He researched everything so deeply — he probably knows the show better than I do at this point — and yet he found that the logic and continuities of the parallel world actually withstand scrutiny, that there's an integrity and coherence to it.”
Palmer says “The Great Eastern” is the best radio show ever made, and can still be enjoyed like a great vinyl album.
“I know that sounds like a stretch,” he says. “Read Dragland’s book and see if you think maybe I don't have a case.”
Palmer will attend a public launch event for Strangers & Others: The Great Eastern at Biblioasis bookstore, 1520 Wyandotte Street East, at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 24. To learn more about the show, visit “The Great Eastern Archives.”