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5 Retro Radio Dramas for a New Generation

Dramatized mysteries are back – and here are the ones you should be tuning in to.


File it under “Things we never thought would happen in our lifetime:” Popular culture is tuning out of reality TV and back into dramatized podcasts.

The hugely successful true crime show Serial put a fresh spin on the audio mystery genre. But suspenseful radio tales have been entertaining audio sleuths long before Sarah Koenig’s recent investigation. From classic Holmes thrillers to the eerie world of Night Vale, adjust your dial now to our roundup of killer serialized radio dramas.

For a taste of old-time radio drama, take a peek at the Inner Sanctum. Airing from January 7, 1941 until October 5, 1952, the series had 526 broadcasted episodes—most of which are available online. The series anthologizes stories of mystery, horror, and intriguing suspense. The program’s trademark is the sound of a eerily creaking door that opened and closed each episode; the creak of the “door,” though, was actually made by the host sitting and twisting in a squeaky chair.

Like Serial, Gang Busters recounts true tales of terror and mystery; however, unlike the public radio podcast, this one does so through dramatized story-telling. This series had a 21-year run, from January 15, 1936 until November 20, 1956. In order to dramatize real FBI cases, the show’s producer worked closely with the Bureau’s then-director J. Edgar Hoover, who insisted that only closed cases be used for public broadcast.

Related: 11 Dark and Creepy Podcasts to Give You the Chills 

Contrary to what the title seems to indicate, this series is another of the old-time radio shows, airing between October 2, 1939 and July 7, 1947. With actors giving voice the parts of Detective Holmes and Dr. Watson, the series follows the mystery-solving adventures of the duo. The writer behind the radio program, Edith Meiser, wrote many of the episodes straight from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s work, before continuing to create stories with the same essence of the originals.

A modern series that boasts of its “arcane mystery, weird romance, strange horror,” Wormwood follows Dr. Xander Crowe, a psychologist who stumbles upon the unexplainably eerie town of Wormwood after he has a strange vision of murder. The show is in its third and final season, but the best part of serialized audio dramas is that the files are available online as downloadable podcasts. You can catch up on the first two seasons now, and then listen as the last episodes unfold, and Dr. Crowe unveils the mysteries of Wormwood.

This twice-monthly podcast is formatted as a community update for the township of Night Vale, sharing “news, announcements, and advertisements” for the Southwest desert town, where it seems that all conspiracy theories are true, and inexplicable events abound. You can expect to be informed of local weather, special announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, the strange lights in the night sky, creepy hooded guests in the town and, of course, “cultural events.” This isn’t a bedtime story … tune in, but maybe not after dark.

Related: 25 True Crime Documentaries You Can Stream on Netflix Right Now 

Photo: Monty Fresco / Stringer; Hulton Archive / Stringer