While radio was not the first medium to explore the stranger side of things, it was the first place where people at home could all bond together, simultaneously, over a strange piece of culture, where previously you could only hear this stuff gathered around a campfire, late at night. Radio brought everything into our homes – drama, news, sports, and fantasy – and as we turned the dial, we stumbled across things that have managed to spook us in ways we didn’t think were possible. That is, until the radio age.
While it is easy to overlook the cultural impact of this, it bears repeating that radio gave to us a chance to engage in culture along with the rest of the world, live. While time-shifting is just the reality of the modern age, it was simply never possible for nearly 100 years. Live experiences – like tuning into a radio program – was a singular experience that connected your community (and your country) in a way that no other medium was able to do previously. These shared experiences changes the way we experienced the rest of the world, and each other. Suddenly, there was something to talk about that we all heard last night. While the obvious boon was to offer nearly instantaneous forms of communication, it wasn’t long before some clever gents realized that the evocative nature of sound at night meant that radio was uniquely suited for something spooky, and a whole world of sounds to make you shiver began to fill the airwaves.
One of my favorite resources for these odder Old Time Radio selections is Strange Tales, part of the Relic Radio collective. Not only do they offer incredible curated means through which you can listen to almost any genre of radio from the past, but Strange Tales specifically is a fantastic slice of these late night, often supernatural but always very weird audio offerings. Every episode is worth your time and effort, and as the host continues to mine the weird and wild side of radio history, I’m constantly impressed with strange gems that are well worth your time.
Even still, radio didn’t invent the “scary story set at Christmas” genre. The Krampus filled that niche almost from the beginning, and radio merely applied the rules of good audio theater to that same idea, and created the perfect way to deliver some scares to the listeners at hand. I was very excited to find that two of my favorite “weird” programs each had great Holiday Stories that fit exactly this description, but are the perfect ways to cap off the season, and bring you a little something that will fill your heart with something other than Holiday Cheer.
We start off this episode with a story from The Whistler, a crime anthology program that focuses on the stranger parts of the criminal underworld. The host, only known as The Whistler, was played for almost 7 years by William Foreman, who occasionally worked as a radio announcer, and played the character in the short-lived 1954 TV version of the character. The Whistler was an omniscient narrator, who would goad the characters as the stories developed, and seemed to enjoy the misfortune of others. Irony and grim endings were a staple of this program, and seemed to set the stage for the EC Comics style horror hosts of the ’50s. There were eight Whistler films in the noir vein, seven of which starred Richard Dix as different characters, and half of which were William Castle films. Each episode of The Whistler creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and is kick-started by the footsteps and whistling that was copied to comic effect in The Saint. But here, the sounds are not only appropriately creepy, but set the tone for the rest of the broadcast. This is absolutely some of the best radio ever recorded, and we’re happy to have it on the program this week.
Running for almost nine years and acting as an anthology program that was on the air at the same time as The Whistler, or second program is from The Mysterious Traveler. Hosted by Maurice Tarplin, a veteran radio voice over actor, who was heard on The Strange Dr. Weird, Boston Blackie, Valiant Lady, The Shadow, Theater Five, The March of Time, Gangbusters, The Guiding Light, Myrt and Marge and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. But he was limited to the narrator in The Mysterious Traveler, a character that shares a train ride with you, and can’t help but tell you strange stories he’s overheard. Both magazine and comic book versions of this character popped up, but neither managed to become hits, and languished on newsstands until they were canceled, a shame considering people like John Dickson Carr, Dorothy L. Sayers, Brett Halliday, Ray Bradbury, Craig Rice, and Lawrence Blochman, all wrote for the publication, an impressive roster with hindsight. While certainly an eerie program with many of the horror / suspense tropes of the day, there are regrettably few episodes of the program available, with only 70 of the 370 broadcasts existing in the modern era. Still, what does exist is a great sampling of a kind of storytelling that is rapidly disappearing, down the tracks of life.
I love exploring Old Time Radio, and it has been fun to sift through all of these holiday classics during this part of the year. Stay tuned, as we have a New Year’s program that we’re piecing together, and 2017 has a number of great programs already in the works. This is a great time to become a fan of our show, and all you have to do is listen. Seems like a pretty good deal, to me.
Weird Christmas w/ The Whistler & The Mysterious Traveler!
Part I: The Whistler!
01.) Austin FM Theme * Paco Jones * Austin FM Theme * Self-Released (2016)
02.) See How Pretty, See How Smart [Excerpt] * Melvins * The Maggot * Ipecac Records (1999)
03.) Letter From Cynthia * The Whistler * 25 December 1949 Broadcast * CBS Radio (1949)
Part II: The Mysterious Traveler!
04.) Christmas Story * The Mysterious Traveler * 25 December 1951 Broadcast * The Mutual Network (1951)