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

RADIO ROOTS Part 1:  The Shadow Knows and a Tradition Grows!

By Lord Blood-Rah

     Down the cobwebbed Halls of Horror Host History many well known names echo; VAMPIRA, ZACHERLEY, GHOULARDI, and a haunted hoard of others.  But, in a far gloomy corner, just beyond sight, echo names of those not as well known in our era, but whose influence is still felt. They are the forerunners of our tradition of terror, the primordial presenters of fearful fare.  They are the Horror Hosts of Radio! 

"Old Time Radio Days"

      Before home computers, or even television, RADIO was THE home entertainment medium.  Radio brought it’s millions of listener’s news, commentary, music, and, most importantly to fear fiends like us, stories of suspense and horror. Unlike TV shows and films these tales relied only on voices, sounds and the listener’s imagination to chill the blood. 

     And, of course, we find these journeys into dark drama are more enjoyable with a companion, someone(or something!) to lead you through the lurid labyrinth and safely home again.  And so, in 1930, out from the miasma of sinister sound came…THE SHADOW!

"A very young Orson Welles as the Host turned Super-Hero, The Shadow!”

      Created by ad man David Chrisman and radio writer/director William Sweets, and voiced alternately by James La Curto and Frank Readick, THE SHADOW hosted THE DETECTIVE STORY HOUR, a radio series of crime stories adapted from the pulp publication DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE.  Designed to boost sales at the newsstands, Chrisman and Sweets felt a Mystery Man narrator would be a unique hook for the show, but soon THE SHADOW, with his mocking laugh and magnetic manner, upstaged the tales he hosted.  After audiences started asking retailers for “that Shadow magazine” instead of the magazine’s actual title, it became clear that THE SHADOW was the true star of the show. 

     Writer and magician Walter B. Gibson then shaped the famous character as he is known today; the mystic crime fighter who can “cloud minds of men” and move about unseen.  In 1937, THE SHADOW radio series starring Orson Welles premiered with the classic catch phase from it’s introduction “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow Knows!” 

     But first, THE SHADOW was a host!  The character had supernatural overtones but is not usually considered a “Horror” Host, since his show focused on crime drama. 

In this writer’s humble opinion, the first TRUE radio Horror Host crept along in 1931.  She was a croaking, grizzled old crone who conjured uncanny yarns; the host of “THE WITCH’S TALE”, OLD NANCY, The Witch of Salem!

     With her wise black cat “Satan”, OLD NANCY welcomed listeners into her haunted hovel, (always on her “birthday” which, inexplicably, occurred weekly) to gaze deep into the embers of her hearth’s fire as she related her “pretty tales”, which included adaptations of classics such as DR. JEKYLL and MR. HYDE and FRANKENSTEIN as well as many original stories.  

"13 year old Miriam Wolfe croaking and cackling into the microphone as Old Nancy, the Witch of Salem!”

     Created by writer Alonzo Deen Cole, OLD NANCY was performed by stage actress Adelaide Fitz-Allen. After Fitz-Allen’s death, the one hundred and seventeen year-old witch’s voice was performed by Miriam Wolfe, who was only thirteen at the time!

Hot on OLD NANCY’s haggard heels followed a fearful flood of radio Horror Hosts, as we shall see next time!  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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15 thoughts on “The Radio Roots of Horror Hosting: From Old Nancy to Vampira!

  1. Thanks for share this excellent post with us is really interesting, keep up the good work

  2. It must have been hot and bright, becusae he’s squinting!SOME SAY THAT SHADOWSSome say that shadows are fragments of light,Others that they are but pieces of night,Fleeing like demons when dawn becomes day,Fearing the radiance coming their way.Is one notion wrong and one notion right?Just what are shadows if they are not light?

  3. I’d constantly want to be update on new content on this web site, saved to fav!

  4. i just wanted to make a quick comment to say i’m glad i found your blog. thanks.

  5. I think The Radio Roots of Horror Hosting: From Old Nancy to Vampira! is a nice blog post and you do a solid job of posting unique information. – Thomas

  6. Yes, for much of the early days of TV, they just respun the plots from the old radio stories. I use to collect them and still have many of the old radio programs on album and cassette with no way to play either of them any more. Some of my favorites were Lights Out by Arch Obler, Inner Sanctum, Dark Fantasy produced and presented by the first broadcasting radio station West of the Mississippi and a little known Canadian offering called “Quiet Please! Quiet Please!! [The Thing On the Fourble Board]. All of these had very distinctive announcers and opening hook.

  7. Radio horror has become a forgotten chapter in the long history of horror. This article is a welcome and needed remedy. I’m looking forward to Part Two. Many thanks to you, Lord Blood-Rah. Keep fighting the good fight against cultural amnesia!

  8. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay! Love The Shadow. Great article.

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