Sad Men Podcast
November 6, 2015
I’ve started a new podcast project, telling the stories of how a generation of men and women writers survived the Great Depression.
You can find the Sad Men Podcast for free at iTunes and at SoundCloud.
My first episode ponders the bloody legacy of the great horror radio writer, Arch Oboler.
It is a companion piece to my Los Angeles Review of Books essay about the history of scary radio and podcasts.
This podcast episode was adapted from my 2007 essay for The Believer, “Skinning the Americans.”
This episode included two songs:
“Dark Fog” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
“Trio for Piano, Cello, and Clarinet” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
This episode included two brief clips from the Old Time Radio Drama, Lights Out
“The Author And The Thing” by Arch Oboler
“Murder Castle” by Arch Oboler
Podcast image: “High Straw Hat” by Ernest A. Towers, Jr.
From the Index of American Design
Sad Men Podcast Episode One Transcript
I lost my job in December 2008, and even though my life has improved a lot since then, I will never forget that long cold winter. During those gloomy months, I obsessed over books by Great Depression writers, the men and women who endured the same problems that writers have faced ever since the Great Recession of the Early Aughts. I called these men and women writers “Sad Men.”
I am author and journalist Jason Boog and this is the Sad Men podcast. I will tell you stories about how a crew of misfits, failures and forgotten writers survived the Great Depression. This scrappy generation has been wiped off the literary map and long forgotten. But we need to remember them now more than ever.
That was the voice of Arch Oboler, the legendary radio writer who hit the Chicago radio scene in 1933, half starved by the great depression and hell-bent on writing radio dramas.
In 1936, the horror program Lights Out needed a new writer. Oboler joined the show as a temp, but mastered the bloody format from the start: he buried a girl alive in his first episode. He described his bloody epiphany while writing that script:
“I had no conception, as the pages streamed from the typewriter, that what I had written was horror beyond horror. For I had taken a believable situation and unwritten it so completely that each listener filled the silences with the terrors of his own soul.”
Oboler plucked his monsters from the anxious collective unconscious of a country clawing its way out of the Great Depression. An entire generation had been choked by poverty and uncertainty, and everybody knew what it felt like to be buried alive in the barren ground of our busted country. That episode generated 50,000 letters from shocked listeners and Oboler went on to craft more than 100 scary radio plays.
Two years into his bloody reign on Lights Out, Oboler wrote “Murder Castle,” the story of an impoverished girl who begs for work at a rich man’s mansion. The sadistic owner kills her and buries her in cement, one of many poverty-stricken victims. Later, the murdered girl’s sister returns to the murder castle and kills the serial killer—we hear him die, screaming in agony. But the heroine is driven insane by her cold-blooded deed, and ends the episode by chanting revenge revenge revenge over and over again.
The story was based on the 19th century serial killer named H.H. Holmes, a man hung for murdering countless women in Chicago. Oboler’s version of the story haunted a generation that had been scattered by the migrant economy of the Great Depression, a world that split families and sent lonesome travelers chasing the promise of work far far from home.
Oboler mined Great Depression anxiety, fears and desperation for his celebrated Lights Out run, condensing a decade of tears and bad memories into invisible, imaginary creatures that crouched behind radio receivers late at night, crawling out during the dark hours when people remembered all the bad things that they had seen and done during those miserable years.
In his final episode of Lights Out, Oboler wrote a story about a character named “Arch Oboler.” His fictional alter ego struggled to write a Lights Out episode, despite a tight deadline. While writing, this fictional version of Arch Oboler reads an ancient book of curses out loud for inspiration—accidentally summoning a shambling hell beast that is invisible to everyone except Arch Oboler.
Over the course of the bloody episode, the mumbling moaning and groaning monster brutally murders his family and friends—but no one can see this hell-spawned Mister Snuffleupagus except for Arch Oboler. In a final twist, we discover that the whole episode was just a dream, a nightmare concocted for Arch Oboler’s final Light’s Out episode. But suddenly, our illusion of safety shatters when the imaginary monster growls in the corner, devouring our hero while the real Arch Oboler screams and screams.
After scaring his listeners with nightmares painfully close to real life, Arch Oboler’s greatest horror story came to life and murdered its master—literally killing his radio show.