Welcome back to Stuff I Like Month, in which I write an entry every day telling you about stuff I like. It's not a super high concept.
...you don't know how good you have it. You really don't.
During the 2000s, as audio hardware and software has become more inexpensive, audio drama is undergoing a revitalization. There are dozens of audio drama podcasts available, in multiple genres. Audible has dedicated themselves to creating new audio dramas for download. There are troupes providing regular paid productions; for instance, Phantom Canyon by Pendant Productions, available here and here and here, and so inexpensive, for the love of all that is good, buy it, GIVE ME YOUR MONEY.
But when I was a kid? In the 1980s? If you got the audio drama bug, you were out of luck, Jackson. The best you could hope for were either old time radio cassettes or some good old Power Records, but we won't get into that right now, because I may be doing one of these entries on them.
There was only one group of which I was aware that were doing modern radio drama, and the only reason I knew about them was a poster in my aunt's house. It showed a grid of six black and white images, each describing one of the early episodes. The outfit was called Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theater. I remember being fascinated with the concept. People still do that? Do they have to go to the radio station? Is it live? On tape? Eventually, one of the local radio stations started playing the episodes, and I began to listen.
Now, most of CCRMT's output is in the form of the Captain Waverly Underhill mysteries, in which a retired police captain solves crimes alongside his friend, a semi-retired physician. You would think these would fall into the category of cozy mysteries, but the Underhill stories cross a lot of genres. The first, The Legacy of Euriah Pillar, has a touch of Edgar Allan Poe to it, while The Curse of the Whale's Tooth is a more traditional Holmesian tale. Murder from the Bridge is a two-hander... though really, it's a one-hander, with the late, great David Ellsworth almost reciting a monologue as he takes an increasingly panicky suspect on a drive down the Mid-Cape Highway. They run the gamut, is what I'm saying, but you're guaranteed an interesting story no matter where you start.
The first episode I listened to was not an Underhill mystery. It was The Caller on Line One. That... may not have been the best place to start, especially for a kid. It's a small scale nightmare that unfolds in real time, as talk show host Tanya Macklin takes calls from the public and starts to realize that one of them is seriously disturbed... and seriously upset with her. I listened to this in bed. In the dark. Afterwards, I had to get up and assure myself that the world was still there. I remember my dad and my little brother were watching a movie, possibly Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I was too busy thinking about what I'd just heard.
All of CCRMT's output is created by Steven Thomas Oney, and he's got a dichotomy to his writing. When doing an Underhill story, he keeps it fairly light, laying on jokes and character quirks, and the Underhill mysteries usually have an underlying warmth to them. But man, when he wants to, he can shut that warmth down and write something genuinely terrifying. The Caller on Line One is one of the most disturbing things I've ever heard, and I still have trouble getting through it to this day. Kevin Groppe, who plays the antagonist of the piece, used this voice... for the first few minutes that he was speaking, I thought he was a woman. The voice is high, and soft, and it really gets under your skin. For months afterwards, I was convinced every sound the house made in the night was the killer, coming to get me.
So, of course, I kept listening to the show. (Indeed, I wrote a fan letter, trying to sell STO on the idea of having the bad guys from Caller and The Hypnotist team up, because I've been a nerd from birth.)
There was no set schedule; an episode would come out when it was ready, and if I was lucky, I'd see an ad in the Cape Cod Times and be ready. In the 1990s, the show was rereleased on cassette with new episodes I'd never heard; I wore those tapes out, listening to them over and over.
A few years later, I was lucky enough to attend a talk STO gave at a bookstore. When he asked for volunteers, I was chosen to get up and deliver the show's opening line. "It's a foggy night on old Cape Cod... a perfect night for a mystery." This eventually led to me actually getting to appear on the show itself, which is still a great thrill for me, and something I hope I'll get to do again in the future.
You can buy Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theater shows directly from the artist. Please do that. They're worth hearing.