Lights Out

1934 - 1939

1942 - 1943

1945 - 1947

Arch Oboler took over as writer/ director in 1936 amd evemtually hosted the show as well.

Lights Out was originally a 15 minute program created by Wyllis Cooper, but it was eventually expanded to 30 minutes (Buxton, 140). Cooper was a magnificent spook master, pioneering the use of stream-of-consciousness horror (Nachman, 311). Since the show aired at midnight, he didn't hold back on the chills. In 1936, Cooper moved to Hollywood to try his hand at film writing, where he wrote Son Of Frankenstein and various Mr. Moto screenplays (Dunning, 399). He would return again to radio horror with the eerie yet highbrow horror series, Quiet Please.

Arch Oboler took over the show when Cooper left and didn't miss a (heart) beat. His very first story, "Burial Services", told the tale of a girl who was paralyzed and buried alive by mistake. It created a sensation-- and a controversy so big, it nearly ended his career (Nachman, 312). Listeners imagined loved ones that they had buried, and went to bed that night wondering if their dearly departed might have been sealed in their coffins and planted six feet below, unable to call out for help. NBC received more than 50,000 letters (Dunning, 400). But as Orson Welles would discover a couple of years later with his controversial War of the Worlds broadcast, what doesn't destroy a director's career, makes it stronger. Lights Out grew into a household word, and Oboler's name became synonymous with fright. Boris Karloff starred in several of the shows, as did many other famous professionals, including Mercedes McCambridge, Raymond Edward Johnson, and Mason Adams.

Oboler credits much of his success to having learned the craft from such a clever writer as Cooper, but Oboler's emphasis on grandiose monsters and dramatic sound effects probably played just as important a role. Oboler's imaginative plots included earthworms that were accidentally increased in size until they destroyed the scientist who created them, or a large alien head that floated about hungry for humans. It became increasingly difficult for Oboler to top his last story. By 1938, he left the show to write anti-Nazi propaganda for a series called Arch Oboler's Plays. Lights Out continued for another year with other NBC writers and directors before closing shop. Then Oboler brought it back in 1942 and became the host, using Bob LeMond as his announcer (Dunning, 400). He left it again in 1943 and it was reduced to summer status and recycled older Cooper scripts. Oboler would return with more of his Lights Out stories from 1970 to 1973 with The Devil and Mr. O.

Cooper left Lights Out in 1936 to write movie scripts like Son of Frankenstein, which many consider one of the best in the series.

Lights Out used gruesome sound effects to emphasize its graphic content. This wasn't by accident, as Oboler would often get ideas by listening to sound-effects records (Nachman, 313). What they didn't have on record, the Lights Out sound-effects man would deviously devise. Listeners would hear people getting their heads chopped off (as cabbage was chopped in half with a meat clever), or bones being broken (by busting spare ribs apart with a pipe wrench), or human bodies being cannibalized (as the SFX man zealously consumed spaghetti). There was even a story where a creeping mist pulled people inside out. The sound effect was achieved by a straw basket being crushed while a wet rubber glove was pulled inside out (Dunning, 399). But the one thing that Lights Out didn't use very often was music, and in my humble opinion, an already good series could have been even better with it. Cooper seems to have concurred. When he returned to radio with Quiet Please, he added an organ and piano. Most horror fans consider that program to be Cooper's best work, despite having fewer sound effects and no famous actors at all. And Oboler himself added music to formally music-free stories like "Revolt of the Worms" during his revival of Lights Out stories in the 1970 to 1973 production of The Devil And Mr. O. Comparing the two versions leaves little doubt that adding eerie mood music improved the stream-of-consciousness narration and added impact to an already strong production.

But don't let this one criticism taint your opinion of Lights Out. It was a landmark series with stories that may seem dated now, but in their time, scared the tar out of listeners. In fact, a World War II Vet told me one experience he had with the series that is rather revealing. He explained that his outfit was getting ready to go fight the Germans in Europe. Each evening, they would play the radio in the barracks and let everyone listen before Taps. One night, Lights Out was playing and the entire barracks became engrossed in the story of a chicken heart that grew bigger and bigger until it started to eat people, and then buildings, and then entire cities. In each instance, the sound of the thumping chicken heart grew louder just before it struck. The story was building to a suspenseful climax when suddenly -- the power for the entire base cut off without warning. He said the soldiers in the barracks nearly exploded in fright. They weren't afraid to charge Nazi machine gun nests, but getting stuck in the dark after Lights Out had spooked them with a chicken heart was too much!

Wyllis Cooper created Lights Out, but left his mark on the new producer, Arch Oboler.

What's the most typical event on Light's Out? Why, someone being killed, of course. And although death was common, the method of it was not. It got downright exotic! Below is a newspaper observation about how one of the regular cast members met his maker on a weekly basis...

"[Sidney Ellstrom has] been put to death in this show more than 100 times. And his endings have all been grisly and gruesome. He's been skinned alive, boiled in oil, devoured by a man-eating plant, strangled by a vampire. He's been drowned, electrocuted, poisoned, buried alive, decapitated, and dismembered." - From the Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1935

Light's Out Studio B, the home of horror.

Macdonald Carey, one of the Lights Out cast members in Chicago, recalls the spooky atmosphere the show generated, even behind the scenes. "The stage was the biggest stage in NBC. The director would put the microphone in the center of the floor and there'd be a floor lamp there and a light by the piano. Here's this big, big studio and this one little floor lamp with actors huddled around it in the dark reading their lines. There was a real feeling of mystery about the whole thing. The sound man was in this umbrella of light way off in the corner. They were very, very spooky shows." (Nachman, 314)

Observations on Oboler:

To say Oboler was unusual would be an understatement. He was different in just about every way. He was born the second child to poor Russian Jews who immigrated to Chicago (Matthew Rovner essay, pt.1). He grew to be quite short (just an inch over five feet tall), and wore thick glasses, a sloppy T-shirt, un-pressed pants, a sports coat, and a porkpie hat. He had a pet toad that he carried with him, which eventually died from eating too many worms (Dunning, 39). He had a young child bride, and lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, perched on a mountainside in Malibu with a brook running through the living room (Dunning, 39). He was very prolific. Between 1938 and 1948, he produced nearly 800 works, a lot of them with liberal political overtones (Nachman, 312). He was normally an outspoken pacifist, but was one of the first to use entertainment to promote war against Germany (in 1938, when most of America was Isolationist). He was also outspoken about how Hollywood was a "huge insatiable sausage grinder" (Nachman, 313). When Lights Out was made into a regular television series in 1949, Oboler was left out. Although he made big bucks filming the first feature length 3-D movie, Bwana Devil, overall, Oboler's career in the visual arts floundered. He wasn't impressed with what other people were doing with the medium either. By 1967, when he had basically quit broadcasting, he was quoted as saying, "If TV could make money out of showing the rape of their grandmother, they'd show it." (Nachman, 314) That's rather ironic, coming from the man who pioneered graphic gore on radio-- but give the devil (and Mr. O) his due; he never actually showed it.

A scene from one of the best remembered stories, "The Chicken Heart," courtesy of Tune In For Terror ©1992.


The Standard (original) Intro:

Announcer: "Lights out, everybody!"

(SFX: Chimes of clock, blowing wind fades in, followed by a loud gong.)

Announcer: "This is the witching hour, the hour when dogs howl and evil is let loose on the sleeping world. Want to hear about it? Then turn out your lights!"


A Later Version (1942):

(Hear it in Real Audio!)

(SFX: Gong!)

Narrator: "Lights Out--- everybody..."

(SFX: Clock chimes midnight, at each strike, the narrator speaks...)

Narrator: "It... Is... Later... Than... You... Think!"

Announcer: "Lights Out brings you stories of the supernatural and the supernormal, dramatizing the fantasies and the mysteries of the unknown. We tell you this frankly, so if you wish to avoid the excitement and tension of these imaginative plays, we urge you calmly, but sincerely, to turn off your radio... now."



An Opening Narration:

Arch Oboler: "Let's go back tonight to another time. The time of King George the Third of England. But our story tonight is not of monarchy. It's the story of an ordinary man by the name of Samuel Jones who had the extraordinary profession of ... State Executioner."

Announcer: "Tonight's Lights Out presents another psychological drama. A play in which the principal part is taken, not by the character himself, but his thoughts. The voice you are about to hear is that of the thoughts of one Samuel Jones, the State Executioner for his majesty George The Third. He sits alone in a dismal room, and these... are his thoughts."


An Ending Narration and Closing:

Announcer: (Reads commercial, then...) "And now, what about next week Mr. Oboler?"

Oboler: "Well Frank, to live forever... To live forever. Which one among us has not thought of that, to live forever? Through these years and the next and the next, and all through space and all time. That's what our play is about next week and its title: 'The Immortal Gentleman.' But that, as usual, is next week."

Announcer: "Yes, tune in next Tuesday again for Arch Oboler's eerie story, 'The Immortal Gentleman.'"


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Some Suggested Samples

(Courtesy of the

The Meteor Man - A suburban couple finds a fallen meteorite, and discover a dangerous alien intelligence within it.

The Little People - A scientist murders, then shrinks the bodies of his wife and her lover.

Little Old Lady - A woman and her friend go to visit her aunt Harriet, only to discover something horrible about her cat.

Sub Basement - A mal-intending man takes his cheating wife to the sub basement of the department store where he works and discovers a horrible creature.

Cat Wife - A man discovers that his wife is a giant cat.

Revolt of the Worms - A scientist experiments with growth hormones, invoking monstrous results.


Read more OTR Plot Spot synopis of various episodes from Lights Out:

Article excerpt on the Gore of Lights Out.

Article on Lights Out by Maury Cagle from Radio Recall.

Bonus Lights Out script related sites:

Script to Willis Cooper's Light's Out story "The Haunted Cell"

Other Willis Cooper scripts, including Lights Out .

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rev. 1.25.10**

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