The Story of Radio Abel

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the entirety of Season 3 Radio Mode!

Procrastinating from writing this blogpost, I decided to do a bit of digging through old files to try to find the very first bit of Radio Abel I wrote (scroll to the end of this post). It’s dated to exactly three years ago (coincidentally, to my 26th birthday), and contains this apology in the margin: “a first stab, a bit too sentimental maybe, but you get a bit of a sense of the banter / tension between them”. I guess that just about sums up this post as well: “a bit too sentimental, maybe, but you get a sense of the banter: The Story of Radio Abel”.

If you’re reading this, you’ve heard the final parts of this season’s radio mode, and you’ll know that this is goodbye. After three years, I’ve decided to give Jack and Eugene the happy ending I’ve been longing to since their first transmission and let someone else take over the airwaves around Abel Township. I’m a fanboy at heart, and I could no longer resist the temptation to send them into the West. The boys and I are off the air for good.

It has been a real privilege to write these characters for the past three seasons, and to work with such an incredibly talented group of actors in bringing them to life. Amy, Felix, Nathan and Rhys are the reason that radio mode ever made you laugh, if it did, cry, god forbid, or feel anything else at all under the sun. Working with them has been a joy since the beginning and I can’t ever thank them enough for everything.

Whatever else I thought when we started working on the radio stuff, I’d never imagined how warmly it would be received, and whatever else has happened in the past three years, the community’s reaction has been a constant source of light in my life. Thanks to everyone who’s listened to our dumb radio show, whether you liked it or not, and whether you’ve told us about it or not. Without an audience, we’d be nothing other than five people in a soundproof booth talking to ourselves.

Alright, enough with the soppy stuff. As this is the last you’ll see of them, here is a list of things you probably don’t know about Jack and Eugene:

  • Eugene came first, and was originally on his own. This was short-lived as writing nothing but monologue was driving me crazy.
  • His name, embarrassingly, comes from my favourite episode of “Band of Brothers”: “Bastogne” – the main character in that episode being Eugene Roe, and the whole thing taking place in the Woods.
  • Once it became clear that having a solo radio host wouldn’t work, I did the laziest thing possible to make the earliest scenes into dialogue: I took all of ‘Gene’s self-corrections and interruptions and put them under a new voice: Jack Holden. Eugene’s habit for self-correction is, unfortunately, something we share in buckets.
  • Jack got his first name because it played nicely with “Gene”, and the “Holden” came from the only British player at that year’s World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table.
  • Jack’s location on day zero is just a big love-in for this song.
  • Eugene’s old career is pretty much just stolen right from Nathan’s life. If you haven’t seen any of his food and drink reviews, go now! Any time there’s a foodie reference in radio mode, I’ll write something as a placeholder and then wait for Nathan to give me something better during the recording.
  • The season two radio clip “Smiling Too” is an original song that Rhys brought in with him one day, having written it on the way to the studio and asking if he could include it in the game.

And finally, before I hand over to Naomi to explain a little bit about how season four radio’s going to work, here are some of my favourite moments from the last three years of recording. Let me know what yours are!

  • Amy barely being able to contain her laughter while recording “The Ablers”.
  • Felix dancing while he rapped during “MC Cheeseman”
  • Richard Bell’s amazing sound design on the first three clips of season two radio.
  • Rhys and Nathan doing impressions of each other in season one (this bit was entirely improvised between takes – just the boys messing around with each other).
  • Everyone singing “Running Down To Cuba”.
  • Nathan’s insanely heart-breaking delivery of the line “They never brought him home”.
  • Hearing all the community call-in clips and having loads of fun writing responses.
  • Felix’s face when I played him the clip of a fan proposing to Phil (he had no idea what was coming).
  • Rhys recording the “Eugene is sick” clips. We had to record this stuff at 5.30am as Rhys was heading off on a tour that day, so it was a very bleary-eyed session, which added to the atmosphere.
  • All the stupid sound effects in “Runner Zero”, as well as that theme tune! We spent quite a bit of time on these sections, but mostly because we couldn’t avoid corpsing. One of the best things about recording the radio content has been how consistently we struggle to get through takes without laughing.

So, that’s it from me. It’s been an absolute pleasure to bring you Radio Abel for three years. Stay safe out there — Matt Wieteska (@gamecat).

And a word from Naomi:

Well. I’ve teared up, and I’m sure you have too. When Matt first told me he wanted to stop writing Radio Abel of course I did what any good Lead Writer would do and imprisoned him in my basement, got out my lump hammer and mentioned that ‘the operation was called hobbling’. But even in the face of my uncannily accurate impression of Kathy Bates, he remained adamant. And, after some treatment in a state correctional facility, I’ve come to accept his choice.

Over the years I’ve seen enough writers try to take over other writers’ beloved characters to know that it just doesn’t work. The fans can tell. It always feels ‘off’. So Matt’s retirement means Jack and Eugene’s retirement too. The ending he’s given them is beautiful and right: it feels like where those characters were always heading, where they were always supposed to be.

It would be wrong, I think, to try to replace Jack and Eugene outright. So there will be radio mode in Season 4, but we’re going to be mixing things up, trying out some new ideas and new characters, keeping radio mode as a lighthearted counterpoint to the Oh God It’s So Dark And Why Am I Crying of our missions. I’ve got some fabulous writers lined up to write radio in Season 4, and those of you who know how much I love the salty tears of the players will be glad to know that I’m not planning to be one of them!

And a little sliver of comfort for you: though Matt created Jack and Eugene, Phil and Zoe were created by Rebecca Levene, so you might just hear a little something from them every now and then.

Jack and Eugene have been part of what’s made Zombies, Run! great, and I’m sad beyond words to see them go. But Matt Wieteska, with everything from his patient, thoughtful, clever and insightful direction to his skills at game design, to his letting us *use his bedroom* to record Season 1, has been a much bigger contributor to all the success we’ve had, and to the million+ players we’ve helped get fitter. So though I’m sad to see Jack and Eugene go, I’m so grateful that we still have Matt on our team. Thank you, Matt.