A Brief History of Nightfall

At the very beginning of the 1980s, the CBC hired Susan Douglas Rubes, veteran actress and founder of Toronto's Young People's Theatre, to re-invent and re-invigorate the Radio Drama department. Almost immediately after her installation as Head of Radio Drama, she was approached by Toronto producer Bill Howell (best known at the time for his work on CBC Playhouse and the popular sci-fi adventure series Johnny Chase: Secret Agent of Space) with an idea for a new supernatural/horror anthology series that would push the boundaries of what had been heard on CBC Radio before. Though not a fan of the horror genre, Rubes recognized a hit when she saw one and gave Howell the green light for what was to become CBC Radio's most successful — and most controversial — drama series.

NIGHTFALL began production in March of 1980 and the first episode, Love and the Lonely One by Montréal writer John Graham, aired on Friday, July 4th at 7:30 PM. It was followed by stories like The Monkey's Paw and The Tell-Tale Heart by Len Peterson, the ACTRA Award-nominated Welcome to Homerville by Allan Guttman and Don Dickinson, and the controversial plays The Repossession by Arthur Samuels and The Blood Countess by Ray Canale. Over the course of its three-year run, the series featured episodes in a variety of genres beyond its staple of supernatural and horror stories. Science-fiction, mystery, fantasy, and human drama all found their place as part of the series' life. One episode was even adapted from the folksong Harris and the Mare by Stan Rogers.

But what made NIGHTFALL such a popular series at the time, and what makes it so popular among radio drama enthusiasts today, was Howell's vision of a show that pushed boundaries. Some episodes were so terrifying that the CBC registered hundreds of complaints and some affiliate stations — ones that carried certain CBC programs to outlying areas in the Provinces, but were not CBC stations in themselves — were forced to drop the series. Episodes like the previously-mentioned Repossession (which featured the sounds of a man tearing out his own heart), The Blood Countess (which aurally portrayed some of the hideous acts carried out by the Countess Elizabeth Bathory during her reign in the 17th Century) and The Porch Light (a tense psychological thiller about a couple trapped in a secluded house and haunted by the spectre of a pajama-clad man standing under their porch light in the midst of a raging blizzard) contributed to the collective nightmares of the listening Canadian public. Despite the controversy, however, NIGHTFALL’s popularity grew and the series went on to run 100 episodes.

Production control of NIGHTFALL was first based in Toronto, with Bill Howell as the series’ Executive Producer.  The episodes made during this time were hosted by “the mysterious Luther Kranst”, voiced by actor Henry Ramer. Because of its nature as an anthology series, NIGHTFALL episodes could be produced by CBC Radio facilities in other cities, such as Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montréal and St. Johns. There was even an American entry into the series:  Mindrift, which was produced by Clack Sound Studios in New York City. After the end of the second season, production control of NIGHTFALL was transferred to Vancouver and into the hands of a new Executive Producer, Don Kowalchuk, who cast voice-actor Bill Reiter as the new series Host, Frederick Hende.

After the end of three years, NIGHTFALL was retired, broadcasting its last original episode – Waters Under the Bridge – on Friday, May 13th, 1983.

3 Responses to “A Brief History of Nightfall”

  • Jeff Silvers:

    I am so glad to have found your site. I listened to , and recorded, several Nightfall episodes in the early 1980's when I was in high school and our local NPR station played them. I have searched for copies over the years with only sporatic luck in used book stores. Your site was a breath of fresh air!  I am not sure if you are aware but there was also a similar radio series called Midnight! This ws on at the same time, although I have been unable to locate any information on it. That series was also a combination of horror, like Nightfall, but did have some humorous epsiodes as well. Definitely worth trying to find. Good luck and best wishes.

    • admin:

      Thanks for your comment, Jeff. It’s nice to finally get one that isn’t spam!

      I’m not familiar with a show called “Midnight”, though there could easily be one. Perhaps you are thinking of the South African series “Beyond Midnight”? I could tell you for sure if you can recall any specific plots.

      Cheers!

      -Neil

  • Kevin:

    "Midnight" was a Roger Rittner series.  It was a fun series with a bit of EC horror comic vibe to it.  It certainly wasn't horrifying like "Nightfall" was.  You can find out more at his website where he has an episode available for listening.  http://www.rogerrittnerprod.com/Radio_Features.html

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