As Halloween radio broadcasts go, it would be hard to displace in American cultural memory the adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds that aired in 1938. Not every Halloween special can be directed by a young Orson Welles, of course, but that’s hardly a reason to ignore the countless other Halloween broadcasts from the Golden Age of Radio. This year you can tune them in with the Youtube playlist above, which collects 149 such spookiest-time-of-the-season episodes from such beloved shows as Lum and Abner, The Aldrich Family, Fibber McGee and Molly, Our Miss Brooks, The Great Gildersleeve, The Jack Benny Program, The Shadow, and more.
Whether comedy, drama, or another genre besides, old-time radio programs tended to seize upon the theme of every holiday that came down the pike, and Halloween — with its costume parties, ever-present threat of pranks, and door-to-door demands — offered their writers and performers a once-in-a-year opportunity for unwonted degrees of mischief.
For normally lighthearted shows, it was also a chance to go at least a little bit dark; for a show like Suspense, whose long and often chilling run began with an Alfred Hitchcock production, most weeks were Halloween right up until the end of radio’s Golden Age. (This playlist features a broadcast from August of 1961 that still entertains in October of 2022.)
If you’d just like a soundtrack straight from the classic American airwaves for next Monday night (or a weekend party beforehand), have a listen to the newly uploaded vintage Halloween playlist just above. Its fifteen tracks include seasonally suitable songs from Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sarah Vaughan (not to mention its opener, a not-exactly-“Monster Mash” number from Bobby Pickett), with vintage advertisements and other broadcast ephemera in between. It was as true in radio’s heyday of the late nineteen-twenties through the early sixties as it is now: Halloween is the time to let blur the boundaries between light and dark, myth and reality, the ordinary and the grotesque — and to make more than a few corny gags while you’re at it.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.