When radio reigned as the primary form of home entertainment during the early to mid-20th century, Australians enjoyed a wide variety of genres of radio plays and serials. One of the most popular genres was the ‘thriller’ – encompassing crime, horror, fantasy and the supernatural.
For Halloween, we're sharing three suitably spooky, full-length thriller episodes from popular radio serials of the time.
Do radio thrillers harm children?
Although relatively tame by today’s standards, these thrillers courted controversy for almost the entire period that they were heard on air. From the 1930s through to the 1950s, listeners wrote to newspapers protesting these broadcasts and experts debated the ‘damaging’ effect they had on young people.
'Do parents realise the serious damage that may be done to the minds of their children by the horror story of the radio? One serial broadcast from a local station between 6 and 7pm for children could cause untold mischief to many an innocent child ... This mental cruelty is worse than punching a child in the face' – CT Turnbull, Assistant Secretary of the Newcastle Young Men's Christian Association, Newcastle Morning Herald, 6 June 1941.
'A great deal of crime is committed throughout Australia ... This is not less than we may expect, because every night when we listen to radio programs we hear of murders, or of detectives beating up people. Programs are punctuated by screams, and the children have no alternative but to listen to stories of crime … It is tragic to hear in almost every home the sound of shooting, squeals, and screams, emanating from radio sets' – New South Wales Labor Senator Stan Amour,1946.
The Argus reported (on 20 June 1940) that psychiatrists had diverging opinions on horror broadcasts, and while some said that ‘blood and thunder and gangster and murder stuff’ heard over the radio could cause mass hysteria, others ‘considered that some people get enjoyment out of them’.
Radio actress Nell Stirling told the Wireless Weekly in 1934, ‘It seems to me this outcry from a certain section of the people is much the same as the protest against the wearing of shorts for tennis ... To my way of thinking, if people don't want to listen to a thriller there are other stations to which they can tune in.'