The Radio Roots of Horror Hosting: From Old Nancy to Vampira! Part 2

RADIO ROOTS Part 2:  A Grim Gang Brought Scares to the Air!

by Lord Blood-Rah

layout and cover art by Mr. Lobo

In part one, we clambered down the cobwebbed Halls of Horror Host History to explore the Horror Hosts of Radio! Orson Wells broke out as the spectral narrator of THE DETECTIVE STORY HOUR to become the Suspense superstar known as THE SHADOW and OLD NANCY from THE WITCH’S TALE appeared in a puff of green smoke to become what some call radio’s the first true HORROR host. Now lean in and listen to hear more of this chilling story…

 OLD NANCY of THE WITCH’S TALE lead a petrifying parade of radio Horror Hosts!


In 1934 writer WYLLIS COOPER created one of the most popular radio horror series of all time with LIGHTS OUT, Cooper hosted and scripted the NBC series for two years before moving to Hollywood where he later wrote the screenplay for Universal’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Writing and hosting duties were turned over to a young writer from Chicago, ARCH OBOLER, who frightened audiences with shocking sounds and stories so intense that NBC received thousands of letters complaining the show was too disturbing, real proof that they had a hit!  LIGHT’S OUT ran from ’34 to ’47 and later even made the transition to television.

Unlike OLD NANCY, Cooper and Oboler weren’t playing characters to host the show.  They introduced listeners to their stories as themselves, often warning the audience about the disturbing nature of what they were about to hear.

The next character Horror Host appeared a year later, in 1935, when THE HERMIT’S CAVE premiered with its ghastly old geezer of a host, THE HERMIT

“Ghost stories…Weird stories…and murders, too!  THE HERMIT knows of them all!” he would cackle while the wind shrieked and the wolves howled.  Voiced by many actors throughout it’s five year plus run, THE HERMIT was clearly inspired by, and some would say just a male version of, OLD NANCY.    

Horror Hosts seemed quite serious and earnest in those early days, at least earnest enough for any tongue in cheek delivery to fly over a naive listeners head, until INNER SANCTUM MYSTERY debuted in 1941 with its ghoulishly punning host RAYMOND.

Voiced first by RAYMOND JOHNSON, who lent his own name to the character, Raymond injected humor into his Horror Host repertoire as he gleefully warned us of vampires “putting the bite” on his guests and that ghosts make terrible liars because “you can see right though them”.   After Johnson’s departure, Paul McGrath continued the character and became known simply as THE HOST.

In 1945 Lipton Tea became sponsors of INNER SANCTUM MYSTERY, giving THE HOST a perky sidekick: MARY BENNETT, THE LIPTON TEA LADYBennett would give a mild scolding in good nature to the giddy gloominess of THE HOST, while all the while extolling the virtues of tea.

Other Horror Hosts of radios hey day included THE HOODED FIGURE from THE BLACK CHAPEL–a mysterious lunatic who sat at the keys of a dilapidated organ playing and telling tales, THE KEEPER OF THE BOOK from THE SEALED BOOK–the guardian of the book which holds ”all the secrets and mysteries of mankind”, and another creepy codger,  THE OLD MAN of THE WEIRD CIRCLE–who called to order the meeting of the Weird Circle to hear tales of a world gone by.

Even the stars of horror cinema joined in!  In 1944 BORIS KARLOFF hosted the series CREEPS BY NIGHT and BELA LUGOSI recorded a pilot episode for a proposed radio series called MYSTERY HOUSE which sadly was never produced.

The often imitated but never duplicated PETER LORRE hosted two programs MYSTERY IN THE AIR in 1947 and later, in the 1950s, NIGHTMARE.

And there were many more ghoulish gadabouts who filled ears and minds of radio listeners with fun frights and lifelong memories.



Next time we flip through pages of Fearful Funny Books and flip through the channels of Terror TV!  Keep your dial tuned to this station!



Old Time Radio fans can read more about horror host Lord’s Blood-Rah’s Nerve Wrackin’ Auditorium podcast presenting the best in old time radio horror at or on iTunes under Drunken Zombie.  Get more info at and on our staff page.

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