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Lights Out! (30 min)

Show Description

From it’s first show to its last, Lights Out was billed as “The ultimate in horror.” Never had such sounds been heard on the air. Heads rolled, bones were crushed, people fell from great heights and splattered wetly on pavement. Few shows had ever combined the talents of actors and imaginative writers so well with the graphic art of the sound technician. The thrills are back at network radio!

Show History

Lights Out was an American old-time radio program featuring “tales of the supernatural and the supernormal.” It was immensely popular, and was one of the first horror programs, predating Suspense and Inner Sanctum. In its heyday, Lights Out rivaled the popularity of those shows.

Lights Out ran through several series and networks, from January 1, 1934 to August 6, 1947. The principal sponsor was Ironized Yeast. Most episodes were broadcast at midnight. Lights Out then made the transition to television in 1949, where it was broadcast until 1952.

Lights Out was created in Chicago by Wyllis Cooper in 1934, and the first series of shows ran 15 minutes on a local station. In 1935 the show was picked up by NBC and was reformatted to the standard half-hour length. Cooper stayed on the program for a while as writer, but when another writer on the show, Arch Oboler, was promoted to director and host the series took off in popularity. (Cooper later wrote a few movies, and created Quiet, Please, another fine radio program.)

Each episode of Lights Out began with an ominously tolling bell, over which Oboler read the cryptic tagline: “It... is... later... than... you... think.” This was followed by a dour “warning” to listeners to turn off their radios if they felt their constitutions were too delicate to handle the frightening tale that was about to unfold. Naturally, the intended—and successful—effect of this was more tantalizing than off-putting. While many of the episodes may seem dated today, more retain their ability to generate chills.

Oboler’s horror tales made effective use of sound effects and atmosphere. Listeners were treated to the ghastly sounds of skulls being crushed and people being eaten. One episode, 1937‘s “Chicken Heart”, is said to have frightened listeners almost as badly as Orson Welles‘ Mercury Theater presentation of The War of the Worlds did the following year. Bill Cosby‘s 1966 album Wonderfulness relates his humorous account of staying up late against his parent’ wishes and being frightened by this episode.

A winking sense of self-referential, metafictional humor sometimes enlivened the proceedings; in “The Coffin in Studio B”, two Lights Out script typists become trapped in their building after hours as frightening, unexplained events occur.

After Lights Out’s radio run, Oboler went on to Hollywood to write and produce a number of films, including the notorious 3-D schlock-fest Bwana Devil. Prized by collectors today, extant episodes of Lights Out are nonetheless sparse: much of Oboler’s run survives, but many early episodes under Cooper’s direction are presumed lost.

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