Origins of Campfire Radio Theater
Back when I was a kid in the early 80s, you could still tune into the airwaves and hear radio drama. No, it wasn't like the golden age of radio broadcasting where one could listen to as wide a range of entertainment as could be found on TV. It was a very different landscape... If I tuned into NPR at the right time of day, usually around 7pm, oddly nestled between classical music and jazz, I could hear something unique and truly remarkable. Something that, to my parent's delight, didn't cost them a dime. Something that would often light a fire in my young imagination.
Of course I had discovered radio drama. Fresh, brand-spanking new radio dramas produced in my own era in sparkling stereo with acting and sound effects that rivaled feature films. There was an array of shows that covered all my interests at that age. Science fiction, adventure, fantasy, literary classics, comedy, and horror... Yes, horror! For in the midst of all this stereophonic excellence, I came upon a creepy gem of a show that honestly scared the hell out of me. I could only imagine how many bed-wetting nightmares this horror anthology called NIGHTFALL inspired among younger kids.
NIGHTFALL was produced in Canada by the CBC and entered my cozy home via the airwaves of our local NPR affiliate. It featured extreme violence, moderate profanity, buckets of blood, sex, disturbing aural imagery... You know, all the things a 13 year old kid craves. At times, an episode of NIGHTFALL seemed like what a soundtrack for an old EC horror comic might play like. The kind of comic book our government banned back in the 50s for fear they were turning the nation's youth into juvenile delinquents.
All the shows I remember were introduced by a raspy, deep toned voice emanating from the ominous Luther Kranst warning us to "Be careful of the edge". Then the sound of some poor unfortunate soul plummeting to his doom from a sheer cliff would reverbate through our speakers. Made all the more effective because we, the listener, could not SEE the edge!
Soon, we might be following the story thread of a truck driver being summoned by a mysterious inviting female voice over his radio to an unknown fate or a young woman lost in a snow storm and taken in by a friendly stranger who may or may not still be among the living.
I cannot recollect just how many NIGHTFALL episodes I actually managed to hear the end of back then. Afterall, I did have to sleep alone and a night light in the hallway can only provide so much comfort . But, as you may have guessed, I heard enough for it to make a long lasting impression.
I guess you could say radio drama seeped into my brain and has sort of been in my blood ever since. So years later, when I decided to revisit my love of the medium and even began to entertain the idea of producing a show of my own, those memories of youth huddled under the warm glow of a FM stereo receiver and listening to spooky tales flooded back. And with a collection of my own original horror fiction gathering dust in the cobwebs of my brain, it became obvious just what kind of tales I would spin.