A few nights ago, my wife and I were getting ready to head to bed when she stopped dead in her tracks on the way into the kitchen. The lights were out in the kitchen and my wife was staring into the darkness, lips pursed and eyes wide. I asked her what was wrong and she told me she saw a woman standing near the refrigerator, naked and simply staring back at my wife.
I immediately got freaked out and told my wife to quit it. She described the woman with a bit more detail and I ended up keeping a light on in the kitchen that night as we went to sleep.
Storytelling has been around for as long as mankind has walked the Earth. It is the ultimate form of entertainment. Perhaps no other genre of entertainment depends on storytelling more than horror.
It was once said that radio is the “ideal medium to enjoy the horror genre”, and I can’t argue that one bit. If you’ve never slipped on a pair of headphones and listened to an old horror radio program, you have no idea what you are missing out on.
These classic programs date back as far as the 1930’s, with several series really taking flight in the 1940’s. Hollywood A-listers like Gene Kelly, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant as well as horror icons such as Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price would lend their voices to these programs.
While dozens upon dozens of series sprouted up during this time, a few stood head and shoulders above the rest.
The Witch’s Tale is widely considered one of the most fun Halloween-infused programs out there, with a run date from 1931 to 1939, complete with a cackling host named Cackling Old Nancy who was joined by her mewling cat, Satan.
Inner Sanctum didn’t take itself as seriously as some of the others on this list, but that doesn’t diminish the show’s impact or success. During its eleven-year run, 526 episodes were produced and the host of the show, Raymond Edward Johnson, is widely recognized as one of the best horror hosts to ever step behind a microphone.
Lights Out ran from 1934 to 1947 and even managed to become a television show. The show was notorious for its gruesome sound effects and top notch scripts, many of which were written by a high schooler from Chicago named Arch Oboler, who ultimately would end up running the show. One episode in particular drew quite the ire and outrage from fans across the airwaves. Burial Service was the story of a paralyzed girl who was buried alive! Hate mail to the station, ahoy!
Mercury Theater was a staple of the horror radio program scene as well, in no small part because of Orson Welles’ contributions to the show. Welles’ 1938 prank on Halloween night has yet to be rivaled when it comes to entertainment creating mass hysteria. Also known as ‘The Halloween Hoax’, Welles’ reading of War of the Worlds on All Hallow’s Eve caused such a stir that many people actually called the police for peace of mind that the aliens weren’t really coming to get us! This episode may get all of the love but one listen to the show’s reading of Dracula during that same year, with Welles as The Count, will turn you into a fan for life.
Suspense ran for an astonishing twenty years, from 1942 to 1962, with the one and only Alfred Hitchcock actually directing the audition episode of the series. The episode was based on Hitch’s seminal film, The Lodger. Highly respected mystery author John Dickson Carr wrote many of the scripts to this show and perhaps the highlight of this series was the episode Sorry, Wrong Number which told the tale of a bedridden woman who hears a murder plot over crossed telephone lines. The episode received such high marks that is was restaged seven times and even became a film that was recognized for an Academy Award.
These are just a few of the classic horror radio programs that chilled the blood of yesteryear. There are truly dozens of others, but if you are looking for the best of the best, look no further than the titles I’ve mentioned today. Most, if not all, of the episodes of these shows can be found online with a simple Google search. While television and film rule the entertainment world these days, treat yourself to a creepy morsel from days past. Get comfortable in your favorite seat, turn out the lights, pop the headphones in and let your senses tingle. Horror radio – it doesn’t get much better than that.