The Best and Worst and Most of OTR

Three tables on this page attempt to list the "Best", "Worst" and "Most" of OTR. Click on the prompt to see the table.
  1. The first table shows what some folks consider to be the "best" and "worst" of several parameters associated with OTR programs.

  2. The second table is a list of the ten scariest radio episodes.

  3. The third table is a list of the most horrible of the horror stories.

Internet OTR Digest readers sometimes are quite verbal about their likes and dislikes. This chart shows a running summary of what some readers think were the best and worst of (whatever) during The Golden Age of Radio.

Most of this info was contributed by David Hassell ( and Paul Rask (, with stuff from other contributors as well.

The Best and The Worst of OTR

CategoryBest Worst
Acting & / or Scripts . Boston Blackie; Lum N Abner; Weird Circle
Action/Adventure SeriesEscape.
Actor . Brian Donlevy (Dangerous Assignment)
Announcer/Narrator: Fred Foy (the narrator of The Lone Ranger) .
Character in a radio series: The Shadow;
The Lone Ranger
Pagan Zeldschmidt in The Man Called X
Christmas Episode: Amos and Andy, 12/24/44 .
Comedy Routine/Skit: Abbott & Costello, "Who's on First"
Amos 'n Andy. "Kingfish's Phony Boat Trip"
Comedy Team: Burns and Allen; Bob and Ray .
Comedy Variety Show: Jack Benny Program Alan Young
Detective/Mystery Episode (tie): The Shadow, "The Little Man Who Wasn't There" 04/08/45; and The Shadow, "Touch of Death" .
Dramatic Episode: Lights Out, "Bathysphere" 1944 .
Female Voice: Eve Arden (Connie Brooks, Our Miss Brooks);
Claire Trevor (Big Town)
Portland Hoffa (herself, Fred Allen Show)
Funniest Radio Episode: Burns and Allen, "H & R Blockhead" 02/26/50 .
Male Voice: Orson Welles (The Shadow, Lives of Harry Lime, Mercury Theater) Ezra Stone (Henry Aldrich, The Aldrich Family)
Most Distinctive Female Voice Mercedes McCambridge (I Love a Mystery) .
Most Distinctive Male Voice Frank Lovejoy (Nightbeat) .
Most Suspenseful Episode: Suspense (Duh!), "A Little Piece of Rope" 10/14/48 .
Most Unnerving Episode: The Mysterious Traveler, "Only the Good Die Young" 02/27/44 .
Most Unusual Premise for a Series: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar .
Most surprising twist ending: The Mysterious Traveler, "S.O.S." 05/02/50 .
Mystery/Detective Series: Suspense .
Parody: Jack Benny's spoof of The Whistler, called "The Fiddler" .
Pitchman: Harlow Wilcox (Suspense, Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos and Andy);
Arthur Godfrey
The Lipton Tea lady on Inner Sanctum
Running Gag: the Jack Benny/Fred Allen feud .
Saddest Episode: X Minus One, "Cold Equation", 08/25/55 .
Series . Baby Snooks; Calling All Cars; Nightbeat
Series With Most On-Air Bloopers: Abbott and Costello Show .
Show Introduction: Suspense The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (with John Gielgud)
Silliest Episode: . Lights Out, "Revolt of the Worms"
Situation Comedy Series: Duffy's Tavern; Fibber McGee & Molly; Great Gildersleeve .
Soap Opera: . Our Gal Sunday
Thriller/Horror/Sci-Fi Series: Lights Out; X Minus One .
Western Series The Lone Ranger; Gunsmoke .
Writer, Comedy Don Quinn (Fibber McGee & Molly) .
Writer, Dramatic Norman Corwin .
Writer, Prolific Fran Striker (Lone Ranger, Challenge of the Yukon, Green Hornet, etc) .

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The Scariest of OTR

Nine Scariest Radio Episodes:
(compiled by Randy Minnehan)
1. SUSPENSE! "Three Skeleton Key" w/Vincent Price
2. SUSPENSE! "House In Cypress Canyon"
3. QUIET PLEASE "The Thing On The Fourble Board"
4. SUSPENSE! "Dead Earnest"
5. MYSTEROUS TRAVELER "Behind The Locked Door"
6. HALL OF FANTASY "Idol Of Krom Kroc"
7. ESCAPE "Evening Primrose"
8. THE SHADOW "The Gibbering Thing"
9. ESCAPE "Power Of Hammer"

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The Most Horrible of OTR

Not by Cisco & Ebert, but nobody asked to give "Squeaky Reel" awards either [Grin]
Bob Jennings,
Erik Smith,
WITCH'S TALES This was a very early effort, which was hot stuff in the mid thirties, but which dates very badly over the years. Even by the mid forties these stories were pretty pedestrian. The last of adequate musical bridges and somewhat abbreviated sound effects greatly hurt this program as well. Haunted houses, ghosts of evil dead, revenge with supernatural overtones are the primary focus of this show. Lights Out: The creepiest of all, because it relies less on narration than on dialogue and internal monologues by the main character.
THE WEIRD CIRCLE A syndicated effort which I find inifinitly boring. This is just my opinion. Other people find nuggets of terror in the muck, and perhaps they are right. But generally these plots seem stale to me and the acting seems overdone. Weird Circle: Syndicated dramatizations of 19th-century horror stories (read: public domain) of a generally high -- and terrifying -- caliber.
THE SEALED BOOK I dunno how you missed this one. This was a 1946 effort which was syndicated with incredible success in the early sixties when the first radio revival was underway, and for many people this was their initial contact with the essence of old time radio.

The program ranges the field from weird menace, to supernatural terror, but it also has more than its share of crime dramas and greedy scheming human menace plots with twist endings.

The same people who did The Mysterious Traveller worked on The Sealed Book, so the same quality is exhibited thruout.

Incidentally Erik, you must not have listened to very many Mysterious Traveller shows for you to rate this so poorly. MysTrav was one of the best horror and suspense shows on the air. You must had gotten a bad batch or something, try more, they're great.

The Mysterious Traveler: Uneven combination of horror, mystery and science fiction, in which the common factor appears to be a twist ending. Perhaps a third of the surviving shows are classics -- but at its worst, the show was quite dreary indeed. (I am currently working on a log with episode summaries and cast lists.)
THE UNEXPECTED A 15 min series of weird, bizarre and unique stories almost all with twist endings that completely alter the story conclusion. This is a gimick but it works very well. I don't know how many of these are around. I have perhaps twenty or so. The Haunting Hour: Disappointing low-budget horror.
THE STRANGE DR. WEIRD Another fifteen minute show with a mixture of horror, supernatural mystery, crime menace and unique endings. The same people who did Mysterious Traveller and Sealed Book also did this one. Very enjoyable. About forty or so are around as I recall. The Strange Doctor Weird: Juvenile horror program aired in odd lengths of 10 and 15 minutes. The stories sound like they were written by third-graders, but the show allowed host Maurice Tarplin to polish his better-known Mysterious Traveler persona.
NIGHTFALL I don't know how you mised this CBC series. This is straight horror, and they make no bones about it. There are some classic supernatural story adaptions, but most of this stuff is new and raw and very vivid. One of the best horror series ever aired on radio, with genuine chills guaranteed. I believe there is a log of shows and dates care of Frank Passage on Lou's radio web page. The Creaking Door: A South African attempt to redo Inner Sanctum, marred by impenetrable accents and trite plots. Generally unmemorable.
NIGHTMARE I only have a few of these. I think it was syndicated. The shows are adequate, mostly supernatural with vengeance themes. Theater 10:30: Hard-to-listen-to CBC horror show, with tired plots and cliched themes. (Note: My knowledge is limited to the five or six shows I've heard, and I know some people think it's among the greats. I guess I have no real interest in hearing more.)
MYSTERY PLAYHOUSE I only have three. These were to be radio adaptions of the terror & menace plays produced by the Theater Grande Gigroude (or however it is spelled) the famous Paris theater of blood and thrills. These are terror stories rather relying on supernatural horror elements. Beyond Midnight: Hard-to-follow South African horror show.
GHOST STORIES There may be some connection between the radio series and the famous bedsheet mag of the 1920's of the same name. The stories are bad enough to be turned out by the magazine crowd. These are putrid. Radio (and pulp magazine writing) at its worst. Inner Sanctum: Horror and mystery stories with a generally surreal atmosphere -- enhanced by the wisecracks of the host. Stephen King remarked in his book "Danse Macabre" that the terrible puns of the host seem ludicrous when you hear the show alone, or in a crowd -- but in a group of two or three listeners, they hit just the right note. The best shows are classics, the worst are merely trite.
THE BLACK MASS is a British series which mostly seems to adapt famous supernatural stories of literature. I was not much impressed. The spirit seems to be missing here, if you'll excuse the expression. The shows sound tired and pedestrian. Even good stories are turned into lackluster radio adaptions. There are a few exceptions, but I was not much impressed by this series.

Editor's Note: Several readers have commented that The Black Mass, was produced by KPFA, Berkeley, CA, in the early 60s, and was an 'effective' horror story. There may have been some confusion with the BBC series The Black Museum.

The Hall of Fantasy: Another fine syndicated horror program, on a par with Murder at Midnight.
. Quiet Please: A program often exhibiting a strange stream-of-conciousness narrative technique. The best episodes of this show can give you nightmares.
. Escape: A show that transcends the standard definition of radio horror, with a more literary selection of stories than your typical horror show. Yet many of the stories could be classified as horror, or have horror elements. However this show is classified, it is one of the best of the OTR era, and certainly a must-listen for any horror fan.
.Mystery in the Air: A short summertime series featuring Peter Lorre in some of the all-time most-horrible mind-blowing radio plays; particularly horrible is "The Mask of Medusa." The Camel commercials also are a scream: "We asked, 'Doctor, what cigarette do you smoke?'... "
Bob Jennings: "Another couple of things you should remember is that horror on radio as in most mainstream fiction, occupies a very low priority on the entertainment scale. At any one time period only one or two shows would be producing what could be called horror. Anthology programs such as Suspense and Escape and the like presented horror from time to time as part of their total story mix, but the general demand of the listening public for a program devoted to horror was limited, at best." Erik Smith: "I haven't heard enough Dark Fantasy, The Sealed Book, The Hermit's Cave or the Witch's Tale to offer comment. Programs like "Dreadful John at Midnight" and "Black Mass" don't really count as horror programs in the traditional sense: On these, the host merely reads classic horror stories, without dramatization."