Horror Podcasting and Zombie Radio – A Special Kind of Creepy

Posted by Danielle Hancock on April 30, 2015 in Blog tagged with , , , , , , , ,
Radio's ghostly presence made clear in Tales from Beyond the Pale

Radio’s ghostly presence made clear in Tales from Beyond the Pale

Radio is the ghost-trace behind every iTune. If video killed the radio (star), iPod was born of its remnants – taking the best and leaving the rest. iPod, that anti domestic, anti-connective, personalised sound-bubble machine, jettisoned all that made radio both homely and, (as the homely often is), cloying, intrusive, and restrictive. iPod gave not only mobility but freedom from advert breaks (or at least the option to fast-forward), time schedules, crappy songs, DJ waffle, knob-twiddling and crackling reception. We moved on from radio, our dead friend. So beneath our streamlined podcasts lies radio, a sorry corpse stuffed under the floorboards of progress. Horror podcasting reanimates that corpse, re-appropriating the iPod’s position as an inherently transparent medium. The iPod – so light that we barely feel its presence, so autonomous that once programmed it seems to run by its own initiative, is easily forgotten. In horror podcasting this transparency harnessed, re-directed, to revive the clunking, hissing zombie of radio – to let it live and speak and haunt its very successor.

 

The Phantom Frequency revives the ‘unwanted’ sounds and necessary manipulations of OTR reception technology, bringing the airwaves back to life. The show’s opening is heavily crowded with hisses and crackles of static. Broken snatches of other broadcasts and strains of The Platter’s 1955 song “Only You” filter intermittently through the static, inferring communication with an older America – as though the airwaves never truly died but were simply waiting. “Stations” switch between the static to the accompaniment of a pronounced dial ‘click’, suggesting the listener’s turning of the dial as indistinct voices fade in and out of focus. Unlike the podcast’s ‘direct line’ of communication, the tuning of a wireless reinforces multiplicity: the ever-present straining mass of concurrent, airborne voices, hunting for a willing ear. Voices that can travel through space and time and that find us, even though the iPod’s

The Phantom Frequency strains to assure us of its radio roots.

The Phantom Frequency strains to assure us of its radio roots.

isolating wires.

 

These voices have a history of Uncanny disruption – as radio first grew, and listeners adapted to the presence of alien, disembodied voices within their homes, the reality of coming across a truly strange voice was a very present fear. Early radio experimentation ignited spiritualist and scientific hopes for communication with alternate planes of reality, the dead and the demonic. More corporeal monsters loomed in later radio culture as anxiety of wartime spies and miscommunication lead to temporary bans of amateur radio tinkering. As the ghostly Frequency settles, these fears are recalled:

 

Through the airwaves, beneath the static – it’s here. We’ve finally broken through, and found you …

 

Regrettably, our broadcast signal is weakening … we will transmit again tomorrow with another tale to [static] your ears. And don’t worry about finding us, we’ll find you (Episode One).

 

The Phantom Frequency subverts linear podcast communication, offering again the fear of anonymous personalities finding us through the static. We are no longer in control of our technology, it is overthrown by radio; a gateway for the horror realm, as unknown voices speak through dead mediums.

 

Tales from Beyond the Pale uses its mediatory webpage interface to re-animate radio, in a distinctly zombie-like sense of the word. The podcast’s icon, a rotting human hand proffering an anachronistic microphone, recalls two pasts, both the human corpse-figure and outmoded ‘dead’ technology, disrupting the clean modernity of iPod as the corpse reaches to communicate with us through his outmoded mic. To listen to the current episode showcase users must click on an image of an antiquated wireless. They are then “taken” to the listening page, a wooden, cabin-like ‘room’ in which eclectic, archaic horror memorabilia is strewn around a desk: old horror novels, LP’s, cassettes and 1950’s creature-feature paraphernalia. Among this mish-mash of ageing story mediums sit two wireless sets, both of which must be ‘tuned’ (i.e. clicked on the dial) to access the podcast audio. In this virtual ‘turning of the dial’, the now ambiguously mediated podcast becomes almost temporally duplicitous, an iTune, shrouded in its technological past .

 

As podcast forms extract desired material from the ‘waste’, Michele Hilmes bemoans ‘the decline of that traditional

Raymond, horror radio's golden boy.

Raymond, horror radio’s golden boy.

backbone of US radio broadcasting, the local station’ (Radio Voices 43). In Welcome to Night Vale we see that chatter and ad-filled acoustic mongrel, the community radio show, return as subverted form, a remnant of an alternate yet familiar America. Entirely constructed of the arcana of presenter Cecil’s patter, ‘local’ news/weather segments and sponsorship adverts both real and fictitious, Night Vale represents a Frankenstein’s creature of radio matter, made-up of the waste product that podcasting left behind. Tales to Terrify revives the 1940’s style radio host, as Larry Santoro echoes Old Time Radio’s iconically ghoulish Raymond:

 

Welcome, Friends of the Inner Sanctum, this is your host Raymond, welcoming you once more through the squeaking door. Come in, why don’t you, and make yourself comfortable (Inner Sanctum Mysteries: 1944).

Hello again, friends, this is your host Larry Santoro. Come on in, to the nook. The snow’s awful isn’t it? Come on in (Tales to Terrify: 2013).

One by one, the noises, voices and musics of radio’s Golden Era return through the horror podcast, enabling a special kind of creepy – nostalgic yet faintly rotten. In these horror podcasts, radio returns, not as an enlivened, re-empowered medium, but as a consciously old, outmoded technology; we listen to the past and the alternate in these ‘radio ‘shows. Our iPods are transformed, for a little while, to artefacts of uncertain and unstable broadcast, our shows reaching us from indeterminate places and times, on airwaves long thought to be dead.

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