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Blanket Fort Radio Theater

A Storytelling Initiative from SIU Press in Collaboration with the SIU Creative Writing Program and WSIU

Blanket Fort Radio Theater (BFRT) is a collection of student-produced podcasts in the form of serialized audiobooks. The books chosen for BFRT are previously published titles from Southern Illinois University Press. In contrast to standard audiobooks, BFRT podcasts have a distinctive sound—an “SIU signature sound,” if you will—that features musical underscoring and many actors playing various roles giving the recordings the nostalgic feel of radio theater productions.

You can find BFRT podcasts on NPR One, Spotify, iTunes, or the WSIU podcast page. At least one new episode will be available each week. Each episode is 15-18 minutes in length. Search for Blanket Fort Radio Theater. 


Based on the book A Knight of Another Sort: Prohibition Days and Charlie Birger by Gary DeNeal.
New episodes release each Thursday. 
(listen to the trailer here)
(purchase the book here)

Episode 1: Charles Birger has gone down in southern Illinois history as a bootlegger, enemy of the Ku Klux Klan, and even as the reigning "kingpin of the Saline County underworld" during the Prohibition Era. In this episode, we meet Charlie as he emigrates from Russia to America, escapes a murder conviction, and settles in southern Illinois, his home for the rest of his life.

Episode 2: In 1913, southern Illinois bootlegger and former cowboy Charlie Birger moves to the small mining community of Ledford, where he quickly ingratiates himself by selling liquor to the locals and providing them with employment. However, not all the locals are fond of his breaking the law.

Episode 3: When police raid a local saloon, Charlie Birger uses it as an opportunity to take down one of his competitors in the liquor business, but not everything goes to plan. 

Episode 4: In the summer of 1919, Charlie Birger meets and marries 18-year-old Beatrice Bainbridge in Harrisburg, much to the dismay of her parents. Beatrice becomes the reluctant stepmother to Charlie's daughter Minnie, and the three of them take up residence in Harrisburg. 

Episode 5: After Charlie Birger establishes the profitable "Near Bar" in town, Beatrice recalls her husband's ability to "operate with minimum of interference" due to his weekly payoffs of certain local law enforcement. 

Episode 6: A complicated man to say the least, bootlegger and murderer Charlie Birger gains a reputation among locals for extreme acts of kindness. However, his deadly temper always lurks beneath the surface. 

Episode 7: After escaping another murder conviction, Charlie Birger is injured in a fight but recovers in a hospital in Herrin, where his wife Beatrice encounters one of his mistresses for the first time. 

Episode 8: In December 1923, a war sparks between bootleggers and law enforcement, many of whom are prominent Klan members. When Carl and Earl Shelton are indicted for the murder of one of these members, they seek out alliance with Klan-connected Marion attorney Arlie O. Boswell. 

Episode 9: On March 26, 1924, Charlie Birger is found guilty on several bootlegging-related charges and sentenced to a year in prison. Meanwhile, Carl and Earl Shelton ambush S. Glenn Young and his wife and take part in a Herrin shootout.

Episode 10: As dangers mount, Beatrice Birger draws away from her husband, but Charlie is obsessively desperate to keep her.

Episode 11: After escaping suspicion in the investigation of a bloody shootout, Charlie Birger serves a month in jail for possessing intoxicating liquor and then, a free man again, builds his most notorious entertainment complex, Shady Rest.

Based on the book The Undaunted Women of Nanking: The Wartime Diaries of Minnie Vautrin and Tsen Shui-Fang, edited and translated by Hua-ling Hu and Zhang Lian-hong, and supplemented with material from American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin, by Hua-lin Hu
(listen to the trailer here)
(purchase the books here and here)

SURVIVED BY ONE--Coming soon! 
Based on the book Survived By One: The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer by Robert E. Hanlon with Thomas V. Odle
​(listen to the trailer here)
(purchase the book here)

MOTHER JONES--Coming soon! 
Based on the book Mother Jones, The Miners’ Angel by Dale Fetherling
(purchase the book here)

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of BFRT, hosted by Amy J. Etcheson and Pinckney Benedict, broadcast on WSIU Radio each Thursday at 8:43 AM and 5:44 PM
(listen to previous episodes here

Amy J. Etcheson, Interim Co-Director
Southern Illinois University Press

Pinckney Benedict, Professor
SIUC Department of English, Creative Writing (Fiction)

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InFocus interview with Jennifer Fuller, 7-6-2020

SIU Today, news release