Radio and film producer Carl Amari remembers as a boy listening to cassette recordings of old radio shows like "The Lone Ranger," "Gunsmoke" and "Inner Sanctum."

He could imagine the action that was brought to life through the actors' voices, the sound effects and music.

Amari was hooked on radio drama.

He has spent years marketing classic radio shows, and in 2002 he began producing a radio series based on "The Twilight Zone." He also produced a family-friendly action drama, "Madison," starring Jim Caviezel, who later portrayed Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ."

Now he has taken two of his loves, the Bible and radio drama, and created "The Word of Promise: New Testament Audio Bible."

It's not just a reading of the Bible. With eyes closed, one can imagine the biblical characters and their surroundings, with the experience enhanced by sound effects and original music by Italian composer Stefano Mainetti.

The idea for the project had an innocent beginning. One night after he and his wife, Michelle, finished the nightly reading of the Bible to their three children, their son asked a question they had difficulty answering.

The couple started talking, and the idea was born for a kind of radio drama of the Bible.

"I thought this would give people a better understanding of the Bible," Amari said. "Radio drama is powerful, and actors would bring something more to it than just reading it. And put sound effects and music with great actors, think what could be accomplished."

The audio dramatization of the New Testament was released in October by Thomas Nelson in association with Amari's Falcon Picture Group. The project includes more than 20 hours on 20 CDs.

It uses the New King James Version and involves 120 professional actors, including Jim Caviezel as Jesus, Michael York as the narrator, Stacy Keach as Paul, Marisa Tomei as Mary Magdalene, Lou Gossett Jr. as John, Ernie Hudson as Peter and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Mary the Mother of Jesus.

Hudson said that when Amari told him about the project, "I jumped at the chance. I liked the idea that the Bible is being brought to life by people who do this for a living.

"I thought about my grandmother [who raised me], who couldn't read or write. She would get up early with her Bible and try to read the words, and I thought if something like this had been available, what a difference it would have made."

Hudson said he loved portraying Peter because, of all the characters in the Bible, Peter was trying to understand Jesus and was expanding and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide him.

"He was a real man who was reaching, and yet he was a willing worker and willing to learn and willing to grow," he said.

Gossett said that in portraying John for hours over six months, the project became personal.

"John has the information," he said. "He's telling the story. He's the teacher, and the teacher has to know what he's talking about, and I had to know what I was talking about."

He considers it one of the most important things he has done in his long career.

"It takes the Bible, which often gathers dust on the bookshelves, off the shelves, and you read those words and live those words," he said. "Those are the keys to the kingdom and value system, and it is there for us. Sometimes we forget, and as human beings with flaws, something had to be written for us to follow."

What helps to keep Gossett grounded are the teachings he received from his grandmother.

He remembered one thing she said after she saw him in his first play: "Don't ever forget, God was in charge before you got here, and he is still in charge. And no matter how big you get, you'll never get bigger than God." *

For more information on "The Word of Promise: New Testament Audio Bible" go to www.thewordofpromise.com or www.thomasnelson.com.