Day: December 16, 2023

Old Time Radio 101: Popular Horror and Science Fiction Anthology Programs

Previous Articles: Popular Sitcom/Variety Programs Popular Sitcoms and Game Shows Popular Western and Adventure Programs Popular Crime and Detective Programs

Inner Sanctum Mysteries

The Inner Sanctum Mysteries left a definite impression on its audiences. My father tells me stories about how, when he listened as a child with his siblings, they would try to scare each other as they listened to the show and its creepy tales of ghosts and the supernatural. It starred the best New York radio talent available, which at times included well-known stars such as Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. The series was also known for its signature creaking door sound effect.

As the Radio Hall of Fame explained in its commentary on the inducted radio program, it also offered a major innovation to the world of horror programs: “What made Inner Sanctum Mysteries unique among radio horror shows was its host, a slightly sinister-sounding man originally known as ‘Raymond’. The host had a droll sense of humor and an appetite for ghoulish puns, and his influence can be seen among horror hosts everywhere, from the Crypt-Keeper to Elvira.”

The series’ influence can be felt today, and is part of why it continues to remain a favorite of old-time radio horror fans.

Lights Out

Lights Out originated in Chicago during the 1930s and later moved to New York and Hollywood in the 1940s. The peaks of the series’ popularity came during the time of the show’s first two producers, Wylis Cooper and Arch Oboler. Both were talented writers. Oboler, in particular, wrote outside supernatural genres for many dramatic anthology series, and Cooper produced an additional popular horror series, Quiet Please, in the post-war era. The stories told were the stuff of nightmares for many who grew up listening to them, with episodes like “The Chicken Heart”, “Cat Wife”, and “The Dark.” The show was known for its combination of great acting, terrifying writing, and chilling sound effects. In John Dunning’s book On the Air, he recounts the tale of a woman who called the police in 1935 after hearing an episode because she was just that frightened!

During Oboler’s Hollywood run, the series began with this warning: “Lights Out brings you stories of the supernatural – and the supernormal, dramatizing the fantasies and the mysteries of the unknown. We tell you this frankly — so if you wish to avoid the excitement and tension of these – imaginative plays, we urge you calmly, but sincerely, to turn off your radio – now.” While it may have served as an effective warning to some who didn’t want to listen to something as intense for its day as Lights Out, it also served as an invitation to the show’s core audience. Most of the episodes that survive come from the 1940s, with the vast majority of Cooper’s work on the series lost to the ages.

Dimension X and X Minus One

Dimension X and X Minus One were two separate but related series. Both were New York-based dramatic series that mostly adapted science fiction short stories to radio while creating a few original stories written by staff writers Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts. Dimension aired 50 episodes over 17 months in 1950 and 1951. X Minus One blasted off in April 1955 and would continue on the air until it was cancelled in January 1958. Perhaps the most striking difference is the X Minus One opening, which begins with a rocket ship countdown. The stories adapted for both series came from best-selling science fiction magazines, and included stories by writers who’d become legends of the genre like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick, and Theodore Sturgeon. Both featured the finest New York radio actors bringing the episodes to life.

While there were other science fiction series during the Golden Age of Radio, these two series account for the best sources for adult science fiction.

And That’s Just for a Start

Of course, experienced fans of the Golden Age of Radio will have even more favorites that I’ve not covered. Many will express love  for The Sealed Book, Hall of Fantasy, or 2000 Plus. And of course, with each article, there are so many interesting series out there that are not as well known like, The Family Theater, Cavalcade of America, Life with Luigi, Fort Laramie, This is Your FBI, and Voyage of the Scarlet Queen. In writing these articles, I’ve not covered every possible series, but given the new old-time radio listeners somewhere to start their explorations into Old Time Radio. I hope these are only a starting point to discovering all of the amazing series that are available to enjoy.

Dragnet: The Truck Hijackers (EP4262)

Todays Mystery: Friday and Romero suspect an inside job in a series of truck hijackings.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: October 1, 1949

Originating from Hollywood

Starred: Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday; Barton Yarborough as Sergeant Ben Romero; Raymond Burr as Ed Backstrand, Chief of Detectives; William Herb Butterfield

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