Stuff I like: Relic Radio

Admittedly, this one won’t be for all tastes. There’s a cheesiness to vintage radio plays that will either come across as comforting and well-worn, or impossibly distancing. The scripts pull liberally from the hoariest pulp cliches, but their reliance on family-friendly advertising money means they can’t embrace grit and gallows humour with the gusto of the novels and code-free comics of the time. At their laziest, they rely on twists that were over-familiar even half a century ago, delivered without an ounce of self-awareness.

So why do I keep coming back to these radio plays? I’ve never been able to get into a podcast, regardless of how highly recommended they come, and I’m not one for audiobooks, yet there’s something about these old-school dramas that keeps drawing me in. The mood they create is incredibly artificial, sure, but it’s artificial in the same way as a campfire ghost story — everyone involved wants to give you a good chill, but not so bad that you won’t be able to get to sleep.

However hard to peg the appeal is, if you think you might have a taste for classic radio plays, there’s no better place to get started than at Relic Radio. This week’s Strange Tales is a decent enough place to get started — recorded in the late 1970s, it’s quite a bit more recent than most of their plays, and stars a young Jerry Stiller as a hard-luck case who stumbles across a mysterious typewriter. You can definitely hear bits of Frank Costanza in Stiller’s delivery, which only adds to the weirdness in a story straight out of the Twilight Zone; it’s a pretty solid example all around of the genre’s strengths and weaknesses. The whole site is worth perusing, though, if only to try to suss out the difference between suspense, thrillers, horror and strange tales, all of which seem like fairly interchangable tags. If nothing else, it’s a solid background for your next Halloween party…

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