When I was a kid (in the 70s) I always sat in the ‘books on tape’ section of the library. I guess I liked having stories read to me- or I just liked being able to do other stuff while someone reads to me. I don’t remember if it’s something I was drawn to, or if my parents pushed me towards it because they were too busy smoking cigarettes and watching Donahue, but it went so far as my dad using his janky stereo set up to copy my favorite tapes onto cassettes that I could keep. I had a ton of them.
Then, at some point, radio stations started playing old radio shows from the 1940s every week night after prime time. I read somewhere that a vault was found that had recordings that everyone thought was lost. My dad recorded them all- shows like ‘The Shadow’, ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’ and ‘The Great Gildersleeve’ were playing on my ‘portable’ tape player every night as I went to sleep. I remember listening to ‘My Friend Irma’, trying to decipher what life was like for grown up women, and ‘suspense’ for how adults handle crisis (they don’t). All the shows were pretty corny and badly acted. But I liked them and have been listening to them off and on ever since. I remember during my punk-rock phase in high school, one of my cool friends found a ‘Great Gildersleve’ tape in my collection of hard core music and wanted to play it. It was as embarrassing as if they had found porn.
Now when I listen to podcasts that replay episodes it more or less washes over me. I’ve heard most of them before. The bad acting doesn’t really draw me in or anything where I want to pay attention. The weird organ music and awkward sound effects kind of serve as a soothing sound in the background. Which makes stumbling across this episode of Relic Radio’s ‘The Horror’ podcast surprise me. They played ‘The Book of Hell’ by Nightfall– a show produced in the 80s. Immediately I perked up while cooking because the acting seemed… normal? It wasn’t over the top and cheesy, and besides the jarring 80s style, electronic keyboard between scenes, I was actually into it.
Most stories written for old radio shows are pretty bare-bones, there isn’t really a lot of depth or detail. But this one, about a cult leader who wrote a first person account of hell before he died. Surprisingly, it had an interesting description on what hell was: That when you die, you don’t have a body or mind, and that you are compelled to recreate consciousness from remembered fragments. That there is a ‘circuitry’ created by god that is gone, and your recreation becomes a system devoid of him. So you keep trying, essentially creating your own hell.
Which is REALLY deep and weird stuff for a radio show. I wish I could find out what art-school student wrote that script. I looked it up and couldn’t find anything about the writer, except for this article that talks about how the initial script was really bad so they had to re-write it multiple times.