Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Thing On The Fourble Board

In the distant past before television, our remote ancestors used to take breaks from fighting T-Rexes and Pterodactyls to listen to dramatic programs on a crude device called a radio. Radio plays were great vehicles for horror, since they could conjure frightening images using your own imagination (It was also cheaper than special effects). I came along well after the heyday of radio drama, but as a child I used to listen to these programs, recorded onto another archaic device called a cassette. Nowadays, the great programs are easily available for download on the internet, and their typical 25 minute runtime makes them perfect to listen to on the way to and from work.

They are not perfect. The product of a different sensibility, they can be corny and overly melodramatic, and limitations of the medium call for way to much description through dialogue (“Look, Jim! How it pulses and grows! Now it moves toward us.” Unless Jim is blind, you don’t know why he needs the description.). There are still gems to be found there, however.

There were a number of great horror-oriented programs. Lights Out, Everybody, Inner Sanctum, some of Suspense, and many others. One of the better ones was a program which aired on the Mutual Network from 1947 to 1949 called Quiet, Please.

Quiet, Please was the creation of Wyllis Cooper, a writer who had been the original scripter for Lights Out, Everybody, as well as many other classic radio shows. He also wrote the screenplay for Son of Frankenstein. I thought it might be amusing to look at some of his stories.

“The Thing on the Fourble Board*”, which originally aired on August 9, 1948, is one of Quiet, Please’ better known (and better preserved stories. It is told in the form of an interview with a retired oil field roughneck named Porky about some events that happened twenty years previously. It seems the well was digging core samples when it brought up an engraved gold ring – from a mile beneath the surface. The ring was around an invisible (!) rocklike severed finger.

This is a pretty startling discovery, but there is more to come. It seems the rest of the creature was somehow brought to the surface with the sample. Soon men are dead, and the well is permanently abandoned. Not before Porky confronts the invisible creature, however. He uncovers it by splashing it with paint, revealing it a creature with the face of a beautiful girl – and the body of a large spider.

This is an incredible story, but the interviewer is in for an even bigger shock. Wait until Porky’s mysterious “wife” comes out of the kitchen…

The crazy scientific errors and a bit of hokeyness aside, this episode works pretty well. The foley effects of the sounds coming from the creature (something like the shriek of a cat) are especially effective.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, it is easy to find downloads of this episode, and virtually every other old radio program, at multiple places on the internet. They are commonly assumed to be in the public domain, although from time to time there is some controversy about that.

*According to the program, a fourble board is the platform located part way up an oil derrick.


Craig Clarke said...

This is one of the creepiest radio episodes ever. I never saw the ending coming (though I'm afraid you might be giving it away a little in your take). Either way, I love old-time radio. It's a treasure trove of entertainment, and I'd be lost without it.

From Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar to the Phil Harris-Alice Faye show, from Nightbeat to Gunsmoke, from Lum and Abner to Lights Out, there's something for everybody, and most of it's available for free on the Internet.

(Sorry, I got a little carried away there; can you tell I'm a big fan?)

KentAllard said...

I'm a big fan, too. Probably obvious since I took my screen name from the alter ego of one of radio's signature characters (even if the name was never used on radio). Yeah, I kind of gave it away, but I don't know if anyone will bother to download and listen to it anyway (although they should). I first heard it when I was about ten, late at night, lying in the dark wearing headphones. It haD AN IMPACT.

The Doctor said...

Just listened to this episode at work (the advantage of a non-customer-facing desk job). Great stuff, and now I'm trying to get hold of the rest. It's a pity that some episodes seem irrecoverable.

KentAllard said...

A few years back, it was thought there were only two or three episodes that had survived, but others have been discovered. I think has all the available episodes available as a mass download, and there are a couple of QP sites where they can be individually downloaded. Sound quality varies, unfortunately.

Matt Cowan said...

The guy I write articles for at The Vintage Horror website podcasts a lot of OTR shows. My favorite program of his is The Horror!, where he does a different old horror program each week. He posted this one a year ago or so and it quickly became a favorite of many. There was also one called "The Headless Dead" that was a great one.