Atsuko Okatsuka onstage at the Alberta Rose Theatre with Live Wire Radio

Image: Jennie Baker

After a year of purely remote performance, beloved Portland variety show Live Wire Radio is back. Late last month, Live Wire announced its fall 2021 lineup, which spans bigtime podcasters, comedians, indie rockers, and more for four shows at the Alberta Rose Theatre and Revolution Hall.

Before the pandemic, Live Wire produced around 26 live shows a year. But when COVID hit, they had to look for creative ways to engage with their audience and guests. “We reformatted the show and switched to an entirely remote production model. Guests joined us via Zoom, and everyone recorded themselves remotely from their homes,” says Live Wire’s executive producer Laura Hadden.

The fall season, which is usually Live Wire's heaviest, at 12–14 shows, will only feature four in 2021. Despite the compromise, the trimmed-down format has its advantages. “We used to have to make compromises on both sides to efficiently produce 26 live shows and broadcasts that would serve both [live and at-home] audiences, even though their needs were often different,” Hadden says. Now, time spent organizing live shows can move toward developing radio-exclusive, remotely recorded content, creating more difference between live and on-air experiences for the audience.

For the billings, which see guests chat with host Luke Burbank on a variety of subjects and wrap with a musical performance, Live Wire aimed for a range of voices, grouping guests with a diverse set of specialties and vibes. “I try to balance our guests not only in terms of what medium they are working in but also for tone and personal background. We don't shy away from talking about difficult issues on the show. But we also want to make sure each show has ample opportunities for laughter and levity,” Hadden says.

Kicking off the fall lineup on September 16 is Oregonian Sarah Marshall, host of the podcast You’re Wrong About, which brings a critical lens to our collective memory of subject like the “Killer Clown” panic of 2016 and Y2K. After Marshall are acclaimed Seattle comedian Dino Archie and local journalist and writer Omar El Akkad. Closing out the show is a performance from indie rock band Maita

On October 14, Steven Universe voice actor Tom Scharpling takes the stage. Portland-connected comedian Mohanad Elshieky follows, who now works as a digital producer on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Rounding it out is acclaimed Iran-born poet Kaveh Akbar.

In November comedian Atsuko Okatsuka will appear in a crossover event with the Portland Book Festiva, and closing out the fall season on December 16 will be comedian Paul F. Tompkins, of Comedy Bang! Bang! and BoJack Horseman, with a musical performance from Seattle band Deep Sea Diver. 

The lineups are already plenty stacked, but Hadden says more guests are likely to be announced before fall hits. With staff keeping an eye shifting mask guidances and vaccine requirements, she says she's mostly just grateful to get things back on a live stage: “We have always had a deep connection to our community, but the pandemic made us appreciate their energy and support more than ever.”

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