Column: Summer Screams: Relic Radio: The Horror

Strictly speaking, “The Horror,” from the Relic Radio site is not its own show; nor is it original. Instead, it is one of a collection of 13 podcasts of old radio shows, several of them dealing with themes of horror, dark fantasy, mystery, and suspense. Relic Radio also has categories for westerns, wartime broadcasts, and even the news. It’s been running since 2007.

Relic Radio is not the only such radio archive out there and there are other podcasts that repeat classics. “The Horror”‘s frequency is also not entirely consistent. And it references a lot of the usual suspects like CBS Mystery Theatre, Suspense and Lights Out! that you can find in their own extensive and better-organized downloadable archives elsewhere. But it’s still worth checking out for a few reasons. Aside from the fact that it’s free and any donations get you extra perks.

One is that you can subscribe to podcasts like “The Horror” via RSS or iTunes. This means you don’t have to constantly visit the site to search for new content. It will let you know when new podcasts go up.

Another is the chronological breadth of its sampling. Other collections I see tend to group the older shows away from the newer shows. In a given week on “The Horror” (which always seems to have at least two entries in that period), you can find something ranging from the 1930s to the late 70s. I am guessing the reason why the site stops there is that more recent shows have living copyright holders (especially of the corporate variety) who are more likely to aggressively pursue action against anyone using their shows. I especially like the sampling of 60s shows, since that decade often seems to disappear into a big, black hole on other radio horror nostalgia sites.

Many of the older shows sampled seem to be “orphaned” in a way, so that they exist in a strange sort of fair use fog that permits these sites to keep them alive and people to catch up on them. In fact, the site has entries from some short-lived, or just plain obscure shows I’d never heard of and I’m fairly sure many other old-time radio enthusiasts hadn’t, either. It’s possible nobody has a commercial (or any, really) interest in a series of five or ten episodes sponsored by some long-dead corporation sixty years ago, aside from those of us horror mavens who want to hear it.

A further possible reason for this indifference may stem from the geographical range of entries, which would raise a lot of questions of which country’s laws have jurisdiction over which show for anyone who wanted to claim copyright and sell these commercially. “The Horror” boasts shows from America, Britain, Canada, and even South Africa. Which is quite a wide range for anglophone radio horror.

This is not to say that all of the material is great, but I think even that contributes to the utility of the site. It’s easy to create a golden age of radio in one’s mind out of the simple lack of survival of most of what was produced. That would be unfair. Radio drama’s golden age certainly was decades ago, due to the sheer volume and innovation of what we got, but that is not the same as saying that everything back then was wonderful or particularly original. In fact, some of these episodes are pretty creaky, even allowing for the technological and censorship constraints of their time period.

Which is not to say that radio’s eerie effectiveness in getting your imagination going still can’t catch you off guard, even with the mustiest of plots. It’s sneaky that way. Check out “The Horror” and the rest of the site. It’s a good general introduction to radio horror and a good waste of your time.

About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesColumn: Summer Screams: Relic Radio: The Horror