Dark Fantasy

by Bret Jones


During the height of radio drama broadcasts, shows originated from urban areas where technology, actors, writers, and production staff were the best available. For NBC, programming was carried by the network from New York, Chicago, and Hollywood. But for a run of 31 weeks, NBC broadcast the horror anthology series Dark Fantasy, which came from WKY in Oklahoma City.

WKY was started by two radio hobbyists, E.C. Hull and H.S. Richards, who started broadcasting under the call letters 5XT in the spring of 1921. The station’s location was in Hull’s garage at his house in Oklahoma City. The living room was converted into a “studio” and the duo started in the radio broadcasting business. The station would eventually be purchased by The Oklahoma Publishing Company.

Within a short period of time WKY became Oklahoma’s premier radio station with studios in the Skirvin Tower in downtown Oklahoma City. In 1941 WKY staff auditioned the horror series Dark Fantasy. According to The Oklahoman: “…WKY will demonstrate that it has reached full maturity by inaugurating a series of programs Friday on the NBC red network…” The article professed: “Friday night it will become the first station outside of New York, Hollywood, and Chicago from which a dramatic production has been originated for the national chain.”  The show was presented over more than 125 stations.

Dark Fantasy was written, produced, and acted by WKY staff. Scott Bishop, who would go on to pen stories for Mysterious Traveler, was the writer for the anthology. The producer for the program was John Prosser and some of the actors included Ben Morris and Eugene Francis, who were heard week after week taking on new roles. This was unprecedented during the “golden age” of radio broadcasting as audio theater of the day was presented by professional actors and writing staff. This makes Dark Fantasy a unique entry in the history of the medium.

The only well-known performer to appear on the show was Jane Wyatt, the three-time Emmy-winning actress. The parts she is remembered for are from Father Knows Best, starring opposite Robert Young, and as Spock’s mother from Star Trek. The Dark Fantasy episode she appeared in was “Debt from the Past.”

From its first episode the program was immediately compared to Lights Out, which was considered the pinnacle of audio horror. Also, being in the horror category helped determine its 11:30 p.m. timeslot on Friday nights. The show in many ways resembled the melodramatic quality of Lights Out, Sealed Book, and Witches’ Tale, but possessed its own unique brand of eeriness.

Each show opens with a fierce winding blowing underscored by a moody organ chord. A detached voice, almost devoid of life, announces the show: “Dark … Fantasy.” Inner Sanctum’s Raymond or “the man in black” from Suspense had more personality. For just a moment it resembles the zombie-like voice from the beginning of Lights Out: “It … is … later … than … you … think.” With Raymond and “the man in black” there was at least a wink thrown at the audience, not so with Dark Fantasy. As soon as the dead voice announced the show, the title was given and the play began.

Episodes from the series deal with dark imagery and interesting stories. For example, in the first episode, “The Man Who Came Back,” a man returns from the dead to punish an enemy, and eventually drives the man to commit suicide. “The Thing from the Sea” has two beings from a legendary sea kingdom taking possession of humans to have a final confrontation, which destroys the island in the process. “The Demon Tree” incorporates English folklore dealing with a tree cursed to kill the descendants of a man who killed a witch.

The most unique show from the series is the fifth episode, “I am the Dweller in the House of Bread.” Scott Bishop narrates the story as he describes a dream he has of “a wise man” telling him to find the “house of bread.” During his journey, which takes on monumental spiritual proportions, he desperately searches for this “house of bread” that has been proclaimed as a place of comfort and peace. At the end of the tale Bishop finds himself in Bethlehem, which translated means “the house of bread.” The man in his dream is implied as Jesus Christ, whose name in the program is “Word.” This was Dark Fantasy’s Christmas show. Compared to other programs of the age, this one episode stands out as a unique offering on the airwaves.

The show continued to receive support from The Oklahoman with broadcast times published, as well as occasionally one paragraph blurbs over Friday night’s storyline. One such issue of the newspaper promoted the Friday the thirteenth episode from February 1942. According to the paper: “Whoo- o-o-o-o-o-o-o is scared of Friday the thirteenth? Not the cast of ‘Dark Fantasy,’ that weird and grisly horror drama…” The article continues:

When Author Scott Bishop and Producer John Prosser noticed they had to present the thirteenth in their series of blood-curlers on Friday the thirteenth, they determined to abandon caution entirely.

The episode’s title for this entry in the series was “W is for Werewolf.”

Unfortunately, the series didn’t capture a large enough audience and was cancelled by NBC in the early summer of 1942. This didn’t stop The Oklahoman from bragging about WKY’s achievement. In April 1944 the paper reminds readers of the 31 week run of Dark Fantasy. This is the last time that The Oklahoman wrote about the radio drama.

Although its run was short, Dark Fantasy is a solid program with interesting stories acted well and with high quality sound effects and music. The stories range in writing quality. Some of Bishop’s early yarns in the series are overly melodramatic and predictable. However, as the show progressed from week to week, so does the quality of the stories. The structure is tighter with unique plots, characters, and conflicts. For the horror connoisseur this is a good addition to the collection.