Academic journal article Journalism History

Terror on the Air: Horror Radio in America, 1931-1952

Academic journal article Journalism History

Terror on the Air: Horror Radio in America, 1931-1952

Article excerpt

Hand, Richard J. Terror on the Air: Horror Radio in America, 1931-1952. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. 184 pp. $45.

Horror is more than a mere genre like the western or science fiction, wrote critic and reviewer Douglas Winter. It is an emotion.

In creating that emotional response, artists use a variety of tools to frighten the reader, the viewer, or, in the case here, the listener of early horror radio. Terror on the Air author Richard J. Hand does more than do a good job of detailing the plots and dramatic devices that made these early shows special. He also threads his descriptions through the evolution of the form and notes the impact such programs had on radio, film, and television.

Radio is not just television without pictures. Television is radio widiout the intimacy and radio's demands on an audience's imagination. These early horror plays aimed at "an audience of one" and drew forth the monsters that dwell in every listener's mind. Television's success with horror has been spotty at best, while films have long fallen into the hack and slash mentality of shock over true horror.

Hand lovingly describes die history, the individual plots, the actors, and the producers of six major radio programs, making it perhaps the first work of its kind. It is a masterful job, full of historical detail and careful analysis.

Three opening chapters set the stage, oudining the Golden Age of Broadcasting and the role horror radio played, and then turn to the narrative techniques and actors of the period. The next six chapters are each devoted to a single program, such as "The Hermit's Cave," "The Witch's Tale," and "Quiet, Please." Hand is no uncritical fan. He readily points out the melodramatic tendencies of these brief plays, their faults and foibles as well as their successes. …

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