Antique Radio

By Michael Morgan

“It…is…later…than…you…think…”

The 1930’s radio show “Lights Out Everybody” began every episode with those six little words, and then proceeded to scare the pants off thousands of people who tuned into the half-hour show that aired at midnight.

Originally conceived by Willis Cooper in 1934 and later taken over by Arch Oboler in 1936, the show featured gruesome horror tales that could beat the pants off any “Tales from the Crypt” episode you’d care to name.House of Frankenstein (Universal, 1944)

Why? Because everything took place in the theater of the mind. The listener’s own psyche filled in the scenes created by the actors and sound effects team with mental images I’m sure were far more horrifying than anything cooked up by Industrial Light and Magic.

My introduction to antique American radio shows came from a set of LP albums I received as a child in the form of a Christmas present from some relatives who also introduced me to horror comics like “Curse of Dracula” and “Eerie”.

The set included “Orson Wells and The Mercury Theater on the Air” performing “Dracula”, a version of “Frankenstein performed by a company that I can’t recall at the moment.

Boris Karloff, Bella Lugosi, Orson Wells, Abbott & Costello, and many others. Grainy, scratchy recordings coming from my kid’s record player sounding much like they probably did coming from the old RCA tube radios of the 1930s.

Actors I would later learn were quite famous on film as well as the in radio programs I loved entertained me for years. As I grew up, and became a bit wiser in the ways of the world, I added comedy to my play list. Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Groucho Marx, and Stan Freeberg made for good times.

Somewhere along the way, I made the connection that those voices from the past were the people in the old black & white TV shows I used to watch with my Great Grandfather. He had been mostly blinded in a poison gas bombardment in Europe during the Great War, but he would listen to the TV as I watched the programs, and explain the jokes I wasn’t old enough to understand.

Later, my Grandfather introduced me to the Lone Ranger TV show, and told me that he used to listen to the radio show when he was a boy. The Lone Ranger joined the play list along with the Green Hornet, and The Shadow.

After I graduated from high school, I went to work for the State Fair of Texas in the Creative Arts department. Creative Arts was the place where all of the normal artsy-craftsy things are displayed, and all of the cooking contests occurred. Due to my experience in technical theater, I ran the light and sounds system for the various performers featured in our department during the Fair.

The group I remember most fondly was a radio theater troupe. They had everything needed to recreate an authentic looking radio studio on the stage. Original microphones, sound effects gear, Even the costumes and ladies hair styles were period.

When that group came in my job was easy, I turned on the ceiling mics, closed my eyes, and drifted away to whatever tale they were telling that day.

I still have a box of cassettes containing hour upon hour of radio shows. They are slowly being converted to modern media, but they will never lose their classic charm.

“Say goodnight Gracie…”

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