Radio has been a mainstay of society, even with the advent of the motion picture, television, and the internet. But there was a time when radio was America’s only source of entertainment – besides, of course, sitting in your humble abode and stimulating your little gray cells with the beloved arts of reading and conversing.
In addition to news and music, radio from the 1930s to 1950s delivered some of the greatest forms of entertainment the U.S. had ever witnessed. From The Whistler and Dragnet to My Favorite Husband and The Burns and Allen Show, every night of the week gave the public something. But there was one program that became a pop culture icon of the time: Suspense.
Beginning in 1940, CBS Radio launched a suspense thriller program hosted by Joseph Kearns, known as “The Man in Black.” It had featured some of Hollywood’s leading thespians, including Joseph Cotten (the best!), Agnes Moorehead (the second best!), Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, Herbert Marshall, Gregory Peck, and so many other icons of that era. Even comedy legends starred in several episodes, such as Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, and Jack Benny.
After several hundred episodes, the series eventually became played out by the 1950s, forcing the network to regurgitate past broadcasts or present twists to previous episodes.
For millions of households, Bernard Hermann’s theme song would air over the radio on Tuesday nights, signaling the arrival of the host, who would eerily say his famous line: “This is The Man in Black, here again to introduce Columbia’s program, Suspense.”
Thanks to YouTube, the young generation can still listen to these timeless episodes. CBS also sells CDs of Suspense. Either way, you have 20-something minutes of … suspense! Not to mention the old-fashioned commercials for a wide variety of products still in use to this date.
If you need to start somewhere, you can begin your journey into “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills” with Cary Grant in On A Country Road.
Read more from Andrew Moran.
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