You’re Tuning In To Horror Radio
You’re sitting alone. The darkness surrounds you. You’re tucked into your armchair with a cup of hot tea by your side. You don’t need the lights on, there’s no tv on. It’s just you, the dark, and the voice speaking to you from the darkness weaving a story around you into the stillness of the night.
No, you’re not listening to a podcast but the radio.
It’s interesting how horror media (or media in general, I suppose) has evolved. Reading aloud was always a popular pastime. But for the ghost story you needed a crackling winter fire and Christmas. That was the time for ghost stories in the Victorian era. Many classic horror authors wrote their stories to be read at Christmas, such as M.R. James.
In 1920 in Detroit Michigan, the first radio news program was broadcast. But we’re not here for news. We’re here for the horror. In 1931 a program aired called The Witch’s Tale. The Witch’s Tale was hosted by Old Nancy with her cat Satan. Only a few episodes have survived as they were destroyed by the show’s creator in 1961 but the few remaining ones seem to be adaptations of stories such as The Wonderful Bottle by Robert Louis Stevenson and Dracula by Bram Stoker.
The Evolution of Horror Media
Radio slowly gave way to television and then television to movies. But, unlike radio, television never really went away. It has changed and adapted and has held its place as a medium of entertainment. Until recently horror has always co-existed uneasily on television with sitcoms, game shows, dramas, and soap operas.
In 1966 a program combined these three things quite well. For five years people tuned in to watch the morose vampire named Barnabas Collins. Dark Shadows also spawned a brief (very brief) revival in 1991 that lasted for 12 episodes. The 1991 revival is what I’m familiar with. My friend and I would watch while on the phone with each other when possible. Along with the story also came the horror of getting tangled up in the curly telephone cord.
Most horror television was usually in anthology form that rarely had a connected storyline. Most were of the Tales from the Crypt variety that were rarely played straight and always seemed to have a wink, wink, nudge nudge feel to them. Which is not to say that they were all like that. In Tales from the Darkside you could find such fever dream episodes such as Djinn, No Chaser or humorous episodes such as A Case of the Stubborns (featuring a very young Christian Slater) alongside the incredibly creepy The Satanic Piano and Stephen King’s Word Processor of the Gods. In other words, they could be wildly uneven.
A few others would have fits and starts such as Monsters , yet another attempt to revive Twilight Zone (let’s face it, for all of the attempts to revive it, it just isn’t the same without Serling), Freddy’s Nightmares, and one that I’m particularly still salty about getting canceled (yes, more than twenty years later) – Nightmare Cafe, which starred Robert Englund (though not as Freddy) which featured a diner owned by a possibly sinister man (Englund) and staffed by people who were possibly damned to limbo. The Diner seemed to be a waystation to the weird ad where the story would usually start. It only lasted a measly six episodes before it was brutally yanked from the rotation. And good luck finding the episodes (and if you do know where let me know!!)
Since horror never really died I can’t quite credit American Horror Story solely with its revival (Supernatural first aired in 2005 and The Walking Dead the year before in 2010) but it was certainly important to it. I can’t honestly say that I’m a huge fan (although stylistically I’m hugely drawn to it) and I tried to watch the Murder House season but could not like it. I still plan on giving another season a try but it’s not at the top of my list. One huge difference in the American Horror Story series was that instead of being an anthology-style like Tales from the Crypt or a long connected story like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural each season is a contained story. I believe there are some connected stories later but for the most part are separate. What it did do was open the way for a series like The Haunting of Hill House to much greater effect.
And now we’ve come full circle back to listening to stories in the dark. Podcasts such as Pseudopod (2006) and the No Sleep Podcast (2011). Podcasts are not any different (except maybe in quality and not feeling the need to over-describe things) to listening to a radio at night.
We are in one of the most plentiful times for horror. We have podcasts, Youtube, streaming services and much more if you know where to look. Just go on Twitter and ask the horror community for recommendations in whatever media or specific sub-genre of horror you want and you’re sure to find at least a couple that you’ll want to check out.
In wrap-up I’d like to tell you about my personal story about my first listens to radio shows. We were shopping for a present for my husband’s grandfather and came across a tape set of 70 classic radio programs. We bought it for him and listened to it with him a few times. Later, after he had passed away, we moved into his house. While my husband would work nights I would clean the house and paint and stuff. Since we didn’t have any of our stuff over there yet I would listen to the creepy radio shows at night while I worked until dawn. It makes me smile when I listen to them now.
If you have any suggestions for radio shows that you can find on Youtube (personally I recommend Suspense: Ghost Hunt) or any other interesting form of media please let me know!
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.