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Welcome to Stars On Suspense, presenting legends of Hollywood in "radio's outstanding theater of thrills." For twenty years, Suspense presented some of the greatest mysteries and thrillers on radio - legendary plays like "Sorry, Wrong Number," "The Hitch-Hiker," and "The House in Cypress Canyon." During its long radio run, Suspense attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood to its microphones to play the hunter and the hunted, heroes and villains, and victims and killers. 

Each week, tune in for a new podcast episode spotlighting a star of stage, screen, or radio in old time radio mysteries that are "well calculated to keep you in Suspense!"

The Scariest Shows from "Suspense"

Oct 26, 2017

Halloween is here again, and cable TV, streaming services, and the local movie theater are full of classic films with vampires, monsters, and other blood-thirsty killers out to scare the wits out of their audiences. But for me, even the scariest sights the big screen can conjure up could never compare with the thrills and chills doled out in the “theater of the mind.” And few shows were better at conjuring up tension and terror than Suspense.

In honor of October 31st, and to help get you in the right mood for tricks and treats, here are my picks for the scariest episodes from “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills.”

The Hitch-Hiker – Orson Welles’ first appearance on Suspense is one of his best, as well as one of the best spine-tinglers the series ever produced. Penned by Lucille Fletcher, radio’s premiere author of chills and thrills, the story centers on a man making a cross-country drive as he is stalked by a stranger who always turns up on the side of the road looking for a lift. The driver’s attitude towards the man grows from one of bemusement to one of terror, and it all culminates in a devastating surprise ending. The story was adapted years later by Rod Serling for a memorable first season episode of The Twilight Zone. (Originally aired on CBS on September 2, 1942; you can hear it in Episode 1 of Stars On Suspense)

The House in Cypress Canyon – The supernatural was rarely featured on Suspense, but there were a few memorable exceptions. The best of those may be “The House in Cypress Canyon,” the story of a young couple plagued by a bizarre series of events once they move into a new house. Robert Taylor narrates the tale as a man struggling to accept the reality of his situation, and Cathy Lewis was rarely better than she was in the role of the man’s wife – the real victim of the eerie effects of the house. It’s a great example of the power of radio – particularly the use of sound effects – to create nail-biting terror throughout this episode. (Originally aired on CBS on December 5, 1946)

Ghost Hunt – In a terrific example of established personalities playing against type on Suspense, motor-mouthed game show host Ralph Edwards headlines “Ghost Hunt.” In a pre-Blair Witch Project variation on a “found footage” story, Edwards’ “Smiley Smith,” a radio DJ, plans a stunt night to be spent in a haunted house. The owner of the house arrives the next morning to find Smith’s tape recorder but no sign of the DJ. What will the owner hear when he plays the tape? (Originally aired on CBS on June 23, 1949)

On a Country Road – I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this show, but it still unnerves me with each listen. Cary Grant and Cathy Lewis (one of the true MVPs of Suspense) star as a couple making their way home via shortcut (never a good idea on this show!) all while they listen to news of an escaped murderess on the loose with a meat cleaver. It’s bad enough when their car breaks down on a dark road, but it gets even worse when a disheveled woman finds their car and begs for help. The tension stars almost immediately and never lets up – even through an ending that only means more trouble for the characters is on the way after the final music plays. (Originally aired on CBS on November 16, 1950; you can hear it in Episode 6 of Stars On Suspense)

Zero Hour – As Suspense entered the 1950s, science fiction stories became more frequent on the program, and several were adapted from the writings of genre giant Ray Bradbury. In “Zero Hour,” Bradbury’s story comes to riveting radio life. This broadcast of Suspense opens with an unusual disclaimer. Months before, the story had been presented on Escape and resulted in a deluge of complaint letters to CBS. Once you hear this story of an angelic little girl and her unusual new imaginary friend, you can see why audiences in the 1950s might have been unnerved by the tale. But listen fast…Zero Hour is at five o’clock! (Originally aired on CBS on April 5, 1955)

The Whole Town’s Sleeping – Another story from Ray Bradbury, but the terror in “The Whole Town’s Sleeping” is entirely human. William Conrad narrates the story of a woman’s long walk home alone through her town – a town that is gripped with fear of a serial killer who has been preying on women. By this point in the Suspense run, big name Hollywood stars were making fewer appearances and the casts were populated almost entirely by the stalwart stable of west coast radio players. It proves that while the legends of Hollywood were great, they were not essential to creating thrilling tales. Here, Conrad and Jeanette Nolan as the protagonist use the power of their performances to keep the listener on the edge of their seat. Leave the lights on for this one. (Originally aired on CBS on June 14, 1955)