Thursday, August 1, 2013

WKBW Halloween Show 1973

A friend recently linked me to a recording of a radio show aired on Halloween night back in 1973, on a station in Buffalo, NY. You can listen to it for free here. It's a good several hours long, but I think it's a worthwhile time investment. Of course, you have to allow yourself to warm up to the format first. It's not a music program but actually a series of scary tales, including a localized reenactment of the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.

I was born too late to really experience the period where "radio dramas" were popular. I'm used to sitting at my computer listening to music (sometimes on the radio), but a radio drama requires that you actually pay attention to what's being said (and read). But there are no visuals, so unless you have the time to sit around and stare at the ceiling, it's not quite as engaging as watching the television. Ideally, if you're sitting at the computer, you could find something visually-oriented to do (like browsing images, or performing photo manipulations - which is what I did) to occupy you while you listen to the stories. Then, the time just melts away.

As I said, the broadcast starts with a localized dramatization of War of the Worlds. I actually picked up a CD recording (I think of Orson Welles' original broadcast) several years ago, so it's not the first time I've heard this story on the radio, but it's still interesting to hear the radio station put something like this together. Knowing the story, and knowing that it's fiction, tends to take away some of the excitement I'm sure, but as a historical curiosity, it's fun to listen to. [And a thought had occurred to me - this story of alien invasion is great, but from the perspective of the modern zeitgeist of horror, it seems that stories of the zombie apocalypse would be perfectly suited to this sort of faux-news radio format - maybe that's how World War Z should have really been done...]

But the show doesn't end there. Following the War of the Worlds are several extended (about half an hour-ish) programs that range from documentaries to, basically, short stories narrated on air. The first of these is a program on vampires, that splits itself between those two formats. In the first half, it paints a compelling portrait of a pre-modern world where superstition reigns, and describes how people could actually believe in something as fantastical as vampires. It's fascinating, and it makes me think that the scariest thing is living in a world you don't understand, where things like the dead coming back to life, transforming into bats, and sucking blood from the living is frighteningly plausible. The second half of the program is somewhat less intriguing, but is a fictional narrative about a woman's night-time encounter with a vampire. After listening to this program - I swear to god I am not kidding - I looked out my window and there were bats circling around just outside my bedroom window! It's almost sad that I'm so jaded that it didn't even scare me... But it was still one hell of a creepy coincidence.

Also on the show is a story called The Darkness, about two investigators who visit a crazy old woman's house where they discover a most disturbing secret. The players do an excellent job - in this story as in all the others - of crafting a compelling atmosphere, that really puts you in the scene. There's also a story about a couple who win a haunted bed at auction, and the fairly predictable havoc that it wreaks. Another one of the show's highlights is The Monkey's Paw, which will be familiar to you if you've ever seen the related episode of The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror. Nevertheless, it builds to a terrifying crescendo, and is not to be missed. Finally, the show ends with a program that discusses UFOs, and interviews some people who have claimed to witness them.

If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, and if you don't mind stepping back to indulge in some entertainment from the past (I listen almost exclusively to music several decades old, so this isn't much of a problem for me), then I definitely recommend this program to you - it's worth getting over the inevitable listener's curve that is a result of radio dramas not being very prevalent in this day and age. It is several hours long, though, so either make sure you set out a good block of time for it (with something to occupy your hands/eyes to keep you from getting bored), or else you can certainly split it up and listen to the different programs at different times. Also, I listened to it as it was introduced to me, but I would highly recommend pulling it out around October to either get you in the mood for Halloween, or to actually save it for your Halloween celebration, as it does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere.


  1. That sounds really awesome! Reminds me of listening to the old Twilight Zone broadcasts that dad used to play sometimes, on whatever radio station that would be doing them Sunday nights. I'm definitely going to listen this around October. And the radio format won't be a problem since I'll be listening to it on my 3am walks!

    And your zombie apocalypse idea would be very good. Hope somebody gets on that!

    In fact... In any kind of apocalypse movie, even something like Signs, the fake news broadcasts are my favorite parts. Because that, more than anything, allows me to imagine what it'd really be like to be in this situation in real life.

    I'm surprised there's never been (to my knowledge), a found footage film composed entirely or primarily of faux news broadcasts. Can you imagine? The apocalypse: as told through CNN News. They could get actual anchors and maybe even some politicians to participate, if it was a decent studio behind it. That would be an acutely immersive experience. Closest thing is BBC's Ghostwatch from 1990 which was clever in that they used real BBC anchors (sort of like Lake County when they had Stanton Friedman). But that had zero apocalyptic elements, it was just a haunting.

    I think Nuclear War would be the best premise: that would give us lots of political content to explore on the news programs and it's a very real possibility. Honestly I think this movie could be truly scary. Of course UFO contact would be a cool subject as well since they can get into the science of it and that's something that's possible if not necessarily plausible. And heck if the movie was successful then there'd be one made for all different scenarios.

  2. You know what, I'm convinced that could be a successful subgenre of found footage! And yeah, I don't know why I was thinking strictly radio - you could definitely do a TV version with news broadcasts and such. I'd be tempted to say we should do one ourselves, to get the trend started, but faking a legit news broadcast would probably be kind of difficult.

  3. Exactly my thoughts as well. This is I think one of the rare cases where having a major studio behind you would be advantageous. They would have the means to get the proper rights and recreate all the mannerisms of one of the major news networks, be it CNN, Fox, whoever.

    But hey, with technology these days, we could probably make it pretty convincing if we find the right person to help.