The Witching Hour
Above image courtesy of Tune In For Terror © 1992
Host: "Dr. Stewart" (probably John Dailey).
Precious little is known about this series, which is regrettable, because it is the first radio horror series featuring the writing of Wyllis Cooper, years before he wrote Lights Out and Quiet Please scripts. Given that his later work was among the spookiest that radio produced for decades, it's a safe bet that The Witching Hour was an excellent show. However, it doesn't appear that CBS gave it much of a chance to succeed, canceling it after just seven episodes. The early Saturday evening time slot may have contributed to the short run. Suppertime at 5:30 pm doesn't seem like a good schedule for a series that could create the kind of chills that Cooper became famous for. Perhaps irate parents complained that too many kids were listening and lost their appetite (not to mention, ability to sleep) afterwards. Whatever the reason, the short 15 minute anthology series was dropped... at least, for two years. By 1934, Cooper was back with another 15 minute horror anthology, this one with a different name and network (NBC), but the same basic goal: to scare the crap out of listeners! By all accounts, the new series succeeded in its task and went on to become a household name (Lights Out). If CBS had given The Witching Hour more time (or a better time slot), they almost certainly could have succeeded more with it.
Unfortunately, most OTR books don't even list this series as existing, and those that do, offer very few details about it. According to a January 23rd New Orleans ad in the Times-Picayune newspaper, the host of the series was probably not a witch at all. The terse promotion actually provides more information about the show than any other source. It said:
"Tune in on 'THE WITCHING HOUR'. WDSU--4:30-4:45 TODAY, And on each Saturday Afternoon.
"Breath-Taking Thrillers by Dr. Stuart, student of the supernatural. Another of his hair-raising experiences with the unknown--"
It also offered $1,000.00 in cash prizes, and mentioned the sponsor was "BREETHEM- 'The Breath of a Nation'"
Here's what Jay Hickerson's The (Revised) Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming has on the series:
The Witching Hour
Stars: John Dailey & Bess Johnson
Writer: Willis Cooper
On Air: 1/23/32 - 3/5/32
CBS, Sat, 5:30PM, 15 min
Theme: "The Witching Hour"
Combining the information from both the newspaper ad and the book, one would assume that the regular host was Dr. Stuart, "student of the supernatural." It is likely (but not certain) that Stuart was played by John Dailey, the male star of the series. One might imagine the general format of the show involved Stuart sharing his collected tales with the audience, either stories he experienced personally or ones he amassed for his library of supernatural occurrences. Judging from the titles of the shows listed below, the plots were pretty dramatic. Sadly, no recordings seem to have survived.
Here are the dates and titles of five of the episodes found in newspaper listings of the day:
01-23 "The Vampire"
01-30 "Voodoo Drum"
02-06 "The City of the Dead"
02-20 "The Living Dead"
If you know of any surviving scripts or additional information, I would love to hear about it.
Cooper pours over one of his many fine scripts.
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