Thursday, November 6, 2008

WDRB TV-41 ...Fright Night

Old School scary

Fright Night was the "Shock Theater" movie program that ran from 1971 to 1975 on WDRB TV-41 in Louisville, Kentucky.
When the independent channel 41 went on the air in February of ’71, it ushered in a new-- to my generation-- era of locally-produced television programming in a time when network television had come to dominate the other stations in the region. For a brief but wonderful time, local kids were treated once again to afternoon children’s shows like Funsville, hosted by the lovable Presto the Magic Clown, and we got our first personal exposure to Abbott & Costello, the Three Stooges, Ultraman, the Tarzan movies of Johnny Weissmuller and so many other cultural icons through WDRB’s inventive, movie-based weekend programs. It was a great time to be a kid, and when Fright Night first aired on March 6, 1971, it got even better...

Saturdays at 7?
Like countless other "monster kids" of my generation, I grew up reading about the classics of the horror and sci-fi genres in a little magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland. Editor Forrest J. Ackerman and his ackolytes had turned us all on to films produced 30 and sometimes 40 years before we were born, and names like Chaney, Karloff, Lugosi (and yes, even Rondo Hatton) were being spoken in hushed reverence in study halls and playgrounds across America. It was a time before cable TV, before Blockbuster and the instant accessibility of the VCR, and if you wanted to see a classic like Bride of Frankenstein, it meant poring over television listings for months--or years-- hoping...

And then came Fright Night.

What set it apart from other "Shock Theater" shows was its choice of movies and (most important to us 8-year-olds) its airtime. WDRB’s decision to run a double-feature horror movie bill from 7 to 10 PM on a Saturday night in prime time was almost unheard of! This was the early 70’s, the era of CBS’ killer sitcom lineup of All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and others, and it seemed like a suicide move. What it was was an alternative-- and a surprise hit. And the movies, classics (and not-so’s) from the vaults of Universal, Columbia, MGM and the like, were not to be found on the other, late-night Creature Features show running on the ABC affiliate WLKY. Our prayers had been answered-- and a new local folk hero--The Fearmonger-- was born...

The Fearmonger?
There’s no doubt about it, Channel 41 was a low-budget operation. Broadcasting from a converted garage on East Main Street, they had very little in the way of funds or set space that wasn’t already being used to support the afternoon kid’s shows and the news desk where Wilson Hatcher, the station announcer, gave the occasional update. Their solution to the problem of providing a host and his environs for Fright Night was unique--there would be no set. Instead, a dimly uplit, slightly solarized face would slowly materialize out of the darkness to introduce the movies (and crack a few well-worn howlers from the Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein joke book) and then fade mysteriously away again into the night. And the man to personify the newly-christened Fearmonger would be local actor and long-time TV and radio commercial performer Charles Kissinger.

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