The first radio stations began broadcasting around 1920, but it wasn't till the golden age of radio that horror and scifi theme shows were broadcast. Radio was a wonderful arena for horror and scifi due to the endless possibilities for sound effects. Often, a spooky voice would tell a story while sound effects conjured up the images of thunder and lightening and other atmospheric and other-worldly surroundings.
Most shows were not specifically horror oriented, and were actually a mixture of mystery, crime and horror. Shows, such as "Lights Out", tended to have more horror offerings. Others, such as "The Clock", were predominately mystery and crime with a tiny smattering of supernaturally themed episodes. Some other shows from the golden age that offered supernatural themes include; "The Hermit's Cave", "Suspense", "The House of Mystery", "Escape", "The Mysterious Traveler", "The Witches Tale", "The Creaking Door", "Quiet Please", "Weird Circle", "Dark Fantasy" "The Sealed Book", "Hall of Fantasy" and "Inner Sanctum" among others. "Witch's Tale" is reported to have served as inspiration for EC Comics, which visually presented old time radio style story telling.
Another type show was dedicated solely to space and science fiction. Some of the better known are "X Minus One", "2000 Plus", "Beyond Tomorrow" and "Dimension X". Some shows, such as "Lux Theater" adapted famous films to radio, sometimes even featuring the very stars who appeared. Serials such as "Father Knows Best" and "Life of Riley" offered up the expected, but beloved, spooky Halloween shows each year as well. One very famous Halloween show, put on by "Mercury Theater" was the 1938 Halloween broadcast of "War Of The Worlds". "War Of The Worlds" was a very real sounding report / broadcast of Martians landing on Earth. Meant as a Halloween practical joke, it backfired when multitudes of people were panicked and begin to flee from what they assumed was a real Martian landing.
Horror film stars would often appear in radio shows as well. Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price all made their way to horror radio shows at one time or another. Vincent Price not only hosted the horror themed "Price of Fear" he also played himself as a character in many of the episodes. Many horror stars also made special appearances on variety shows, especially around Halloween time.
Since the advent of television, radio slowly evaporated, although "Lights Out" made the transition to television in 1949, featuring Frank Gallop as host and Jack La Rue as narrator. "Suspense" would also make it to TV, and luckily, footage of this thought long lost rare show has become available today on DVD.
- Our Favorite Spooky OTR Shows
Beyond Midnight - Beyond Midnight was a South African supernatural theme show that aired from 1968 through 1969. The show was produced by Michael McCabe, who also produced the lesser known SciFi themed SF 68. It is unknown exactly how many shows were produced.
Black Chapel - Black Chapel was a supernatural theme show that was broadcast on CBS from 1937 - 1939. The show starred Ted Osborne who appeared in many spooky and scifi themed shows from the Golden Age of radio, such as "X Minus One", "Inner Sanctum Mysteries", the "Shadow", the "Mysterious Traveler", the "Whistler", and "Suspense". In addition to appearing in many episodes of the latter series, he also performed as host/narrator of "The Man in Black" for some of the series. Osborne would also appear in one episode of TV show "Inner Sanctum", which was based on the radio series. Although it is believed that 100 episodes were produced, shows are rare.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater - CBS Radio Mystery Theater came about in 1974, created by Himan Brown, the same man who brought us Inner Sanctum. Supernatural in theme for the most part, the show was so hugely popular it managed an astounding 9 year run.
The Clock - The sound of clock chimes with a voice intoning "Sunrise and Sunset, Promise and Fulfillment, Birth and Death, The whole Drama of Life is played out in the Sands of Time" opened the show. Although not specifically a horror series, The Clock" did offer it's fair share of scares. We love the ironic O'Henry twists! Originating in Australia, the show ran from 1946 until 1948.
Dark Fantasy - Dark Fantasy originated from station WKY in Oklahoma City. Written by Scott Bishop (Mysterious Traveler and The Sealed Book), the show was heard Fridays on NBC, with Keith Paynton acting as announcer. Less mystery and more horror, the show ran from 1941 and 1942. 31 shows made up the series.
Escape - Appearing in 1947, Escape was touted as an adventuresome "escape" from reality. Offering mystery, adventure and scares, the show would come to offer many Twilight Zone-ish style episodes, much to the delight of horror and scifi fans. Escape served as one of the most popular old time radio shows ever to hit the airways.
Hall Of Fantasy - Although the first Hall Of Fantasy shows made the scene around 1946, it wasn't until the show reappeared, reinvented by originators Richard Thorne and Carl Greyson in 1949, that the theme was kicked up a notch and centered around the supernatural. Prior to this, Hall Of Fantasy was mainly a crime / drama series. Originating in Salt Lake City, Utah, Hall Of Fantasy was destined to go nationwide in 1952.
Haunted - Haunted was a BBC production that appeared in 1980. Stories all centered around ghosts and the supernatural. 14 episodes are known to exist.
The Haunting Hour - The Haunted Hour was broadcast from 1944 to 1946. The series was mostly mystery and horror in nature. Oddly, there are no credits. Because of this, unfortunately, very little is known about this series. If you have info, please let us know!
Inner Sanctum - Inner Sanctum Mysteries aired from January 7, 1941 to October 5, 1952. Featuring a combo of mystery, terror and suspense, 526 episodes were made. The series was created by Himan Brown, who later created CBS Radio Mystery Theater. An INNER SANCTUM show trademark was the eerie creaking door sound that opened and closed the broadcasts. Oddly enough, the sound was actually made by a rusty desk chair and not a door.
Lights Out - Lights Out was a popular old-time radio program that originated in the USA. Devoted to horror and the supernatural for the most part, Lights Out made the scene before Suspense and Inner Sanctum, first appearing January 1934. Was one of the few series to make the transition to television.
Macabre - Macabre made the scene in November 13th 1961 and ran until January 8th 1962. Spooky and supernatural theme, Macabre was a Tokyo Studios, Far East Network of the Armed Forces Radio Service production. Creators of the series were William Verdier, who also starred in the series, and John F. Buey Jr., a program director with FEN Tokyo. All 8 episodes are currently in circulation.
Mind Webs - Mindwebs, produced by WHA Radio in Madison, Wisconsin, between 1976 and 1984, was really less a radio show in the familiar sense and more a series of readings of short stories by amazing writers, such as Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. Talented writing, wonderful accompaniment music and superb reading by Michael Hansen make the show one of our favorites. 150 shows were produced and aired.
Mystery In The Air - Mystery In The Air was a summer replacement for The Abbott And Costello Show, which ran in 1947. The 30 minute, weekly show was hosted by Peter Lorre and featured classic literature horror tales such as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Stephenson's "Leiningen vs the Ants", Nelson Bond's "The Mask Of Medusa" and others. NOT to be confused with another detective mystery drama "Mystery . . . In The Air!", which aired in 1945.
The Sealed Book - Mystery and horror, The Sealed Book was a radio series of mystery and terror tales broadcast between March 18 and September 9, 1945. Each week, an oddly silent "keeper of the book" would open the book and the story would be revealed . The show was produced and directed by Jock MacGregor for Mutual network. All in all, approximately 27 episodes were produced.
Suspense - Suspense, subtitled "radio's outstanding theater of thrills.", was heard on CBS from 1942 through 1962. Mostly crime drama, the horror theme episodes are a real treat due to the higher quality of the series over all. Although around 945 episodes were broadcast, only about 900 are existant today.
Nightfall - Nightfall was a half-hour radio horror / supernatural theme series that aired in Canada in the early 1980's. Produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the series ran from July 1980 until June of 1983. Created by Bill Howell, known for his work on other series such as "CBC Playhouse" and "Johnny Chase: Secret Agent of Space",
Tales Of The Bizarre - Tales Of The Bizarre was actually 2 separate series of the same name. A BBC production that consisted of adaptations of Ray Bradbury stories, shows were introduced by Bradbury himself. The show collectively ran from 1995 to 1997 and consisted of 6 episodes for each series.
Theater Five - Theater Five was an attempt by ABC to breathe life back into radio. Airing from 1964 - 1965, stories ranged from drama and comedy to mystery and science fiction. Theater Five aired weekdays for 52 weeks with a total of 260 shows. All but 5 shows are currently in circulation.
Vanishing Point - Vanishing Point was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show that ran from 1984 986. The series was made up of 69 episodes, although the show would continue uner different names and formats. A descriptive intro declared that Vanishing Point was "The point between reality and fantasy".
The Weird Circle - The Weird Circle ran in syndication from 1943 to 1947 on Mutual. Syndicated by Ziv Productions, the series originated in New York City. 78 episodes were produced. All sorts of creepy tales were told; from spooky hauntings to the retelling of famous classics. Among the better known classic tales include "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "Frankenstein," "The Werewolf," and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", although a plethora of other, lesser known, spooky stories were also aired.