The Unexpected


Above image courtesy of Tune In For Terror © 1992

Host: Several different professional announcers, but none mentioned in the credits.

This was a transcribed series of 15 minute terror melodramas with surprise endings. A Wulitzer organ added mood music and dramatic stings to punctuate the action. The host's name is currently uncredited (it often changed), but the main character was usually a well known character actor, like "outstanding motion picture and stage star" Barry Sullivan or Lurene Tuttle.

The Unexpected was not a series to soft peddle the violence. Listeners could hear a husband murder his wife on mic, complete with screams and a thrashing struggle. The rest of the story might feature the casual conversations between the killer and other people he was trying to act normal in front of, while also letting us hear his panic stricken internal thoughts as he became more convinced he was going to get caught any minute. When he was finally certain the gig was up, listeners could be treated to another killing, a suicide. That's two killings in just 15 minutes, not a bad value for a free radio program. And the second killing was just as exciting as the first. Listen for yourself:

"There's Evelyn just as I left her. She's dead. Really dead! But Mrs. Bronson told me --They know. They must know! They're trying to trap me. The police must be outside right now waiting to see what I do next. They'll probably come in any second to arrest me. But they won't get the chance...

(SFX: Desk drawer slides open.)

"It's your gun Evelyn. I gave it to you because you were afraid. Afraid of being alone in the house, but you never needed it. Now I'm afraid Evelyn. I need the revolver. They found me out. Somehow, somewhere, I slipped. I wish I knew what it was, but there isn't time, now I'll never know.

(SFX: Music: Subtle, pensive, builds.)

"Pick up the gun... Put it next to my cheek. It's cold against my face. And now, squeeze the trigger...

(SFX: A single gun blast.)

This is the kind of gory violence that parents criticized TV for broadcasting, only I never remember seeing anyone on TV blowing their own head off until nearly 30 years later... and even then, it was only on cable. Then again, if anyone saw anything too graphic on radio, they were partially to blame. After all, it was their own imaginations that created the image!

In short, The Unexpected was a hard hitting series with smart writing and good acting. It had all the irony and O. Henry type endings that made The Whistler so popular, only The Unexpected packed them in to shorter episodes. Sometimes they got carried away with the organ and it sounds more like a soap opera. It doesn't help matters that just before the final act, the host butts in to ask:

"You think the story is over, don't you? But wait. Fate takes a hand. Wait for The Unexpected!" (Insert a crass commercial here or endure the organ player getting carried away for another minute.)

But despite these melodramatic gimmicks, the series usually works quite well. Too bad it only lasted a year.

The Standard Intro:

Announcer: "From Hollywood!

(Organ flourish)

Announcer: "Barry Sullivan in...

(Another Organ Flourish)

Announcer: "The Unexpected!"

Woman's voice: "The Unexpected."

Man's voice: "The Unexpected."

Host: "Life if filled with the unexpected. Happy, romantic, tragic, and mysterious endings to our most ordinary actions. Dreams come true or dreams are shattered by sudden twists of fate in The Unexpected.

"Who knows what drama may happen tomorrow, or an hour from now, or in just a moment? Who knows what destiny has in store for the lady down the street, the fellow at the next desk, or you, yourself? Who knows?

(Organ flourish.)

"In just a moment, The Unexpected.

(More organ music)

"And now Mr. Barry Sullivan, outstanding motion picture and stage star, in a drama of The Unexpected, titled: 'Mercy Killing!'"

Hear it now, FREE!

(Courtesy of

Go to the index of over a dozen free episodes here.

Sample Plots

"Mercy Killing" - When a husband becomes bored with his wife enough to kill her, he leaves the body to be discovered by neighbors. His alibi unravels, however, when the body disappears and she continues to follow her social schedule.

"Cargo Unknown" - The widow of a drowned merchant hires a diver to retrieve her dead husband's unknown cargo, but there are others after the same treasure at the same time.

"Revenge" - A man intent on killing a rival who ruined his father, ends up in a relationship with the step daughter of his intended target.

"The Cripple" - A cruel woman resents caring for her crippled sister, but is obligated by her father's will to do so since he left his estate to the sick sibling. She plans to escape by marrying a well-off man, but she couldn't foresee a sudden twist of fate.

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