Old-Time Radio Playlist: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

October seems like a good time to enter the eerie world of Edgar Allan Poe. Not only is Halloween approaching, but so is the anniversary of Poe’s death. He died on October 7, 1849, at age 40, from unknown causes.

Radio programs presented Poe’s stories often, and it’s easy to see why. They make exciting listening experiences, painting vivid images in listeners’ imagination.

For this playlist, I have tried to gather the widest number of Poe stories from the widest number of radio programs.

Dim the lights, sit back, and lose yourself in the strange world of Edgar Allan Poe.

“And puzzle they did, these French police, and with them the rest of the world.”

“Rue Morgue Mysteries”
Unsolved Mysteries
About this Series: A syndicated 15-minute show, Unsolved Mysteries aired ostensibly true stories and posited solutions to historical mysteries.
Thoughts on this EpisodeUnsolved Mysteries treats Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as a fictionalized account of a true crime, and the show comes up with a different solution to that crime. Poe’s story, history’s first detective story, didn’t have any basis in fact, however. (He did base a later story, “The Mystery of Marie Roget” on a real New York murder.)
Read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

“Even after two days at sea, death did not destroy that waxen beauty.”

“The Oblong Box”
The Weird Circle
February 18, 1945
About this Series: Many radio series explored horror and suspense. One thing that differentiated The Weird Circle was its source material; it frequently presented “literary” horror stories, including several of Poe’s tales.
Thoughts on this Episode: This show adds a murderous twist to make Poe’s story even more twisted. It’s an enjoyable adaptation, although the acting gets overwrought at times.
Read “The Oblong Box”

“I determined then to even the score, to revenge the desecration of my name, of my family honor.”

“The Cask of Amontillado”
Hall of Fantasy
January 19, 1953
About this Series: This was another radio show dedicated to tales of suspense and the supernatural.
Thoughts on this Episode: We have no big name stars here, but this is a satisfying dramatization of Poe’s tale of revenge.
Read “The Cask of Amontillado”
“And so it happened, that at the end of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the middle of October, I found myself as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the grim and melancholy House of Usher”

“The Fall of the House of Usher”
October 22, 1947
About this Series: Escape was “radio’s greatest series of high adventure,” according to John Dunning’s On the Air. It ran from 1947 to 1954, a sister series to the longer-running Suspense.
Thoughts on this Episode: Paul Frees, who plays the narrator, was one of the most prolific voice actors of the 20th century. People unfamiliar with his radio career may know him as Boris Badenov, Burgermeister Meisterburger, or the host ghost in Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction. His powerful, deep voice brings the dread and decay in Poe’s story vividly to life.
Read “The Fall of the House of Usher”

“You scream with the terror of it! You scream, and scream, and scream!”

“The Premature Burial”
CBS Radio Mystery Theater
January 6, 1975
About this Series: Although not exactly “old-time radio,” CBS Radio Mystery Theater represented the last major gasp of radio drama. The show ran on weeknights from 1974 to 1982. E.G. Marshall hosted, and radio veteran Himan Brown produced the program.
Thoughts on this Episode: Poe’s story barely qualifies as a story at all—it is mostly a rumination on the horror of being buried alive. And Poe sure can ruminate:
It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs- the stifling fumes from the damp earth–the clinging to the death garments–the rigid embrace of the narrow house–the blackness of the absolute Night–the silence like a sea that overwhelms–the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm–these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed–that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead–these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil.

This episode creates a 45-minute story from an incident that is only briefly described in Poe’s story. It does so pretty well, although I found the third act a bit weak. Keir Dullea, best known for his role in 2001: A Space Odyssey, stars in this episode (and many others in the series).

Read “The Premature Burial”

Other Old-Time Radio Playlists