Quiet, Please, the dark fantasy anthology series that blended a creative mind, a small audience, and a minuscule budget into a mind-bending exploration of radio’s unique and often terrifying ability to engross and shock its listeners.
Because cult shows attracted such small audiences when they were first produced, and because they were frequently aired without the financial support of a sponsor, a great many of them have not survived and those that do exist today survive only in edited and/or poor quality versions. But, as any fan of such shows will testify, it seems that none of the cult shows have suffered as much as Wyllis Cooper’s Quiet, Please. Aired as an unsponsored sustainer between 1947 and 1949, first on Mutual and later on ABC, the majority of shows in the series do exist — but, considering how downright lousy most of them sound, its apparent that the recordings spent quite a few years in less than idea storage conditions!
Their condition, though sad, is not particularly surprising; what is surprising is that they exist at all.
The creator of Quiet, Please, Wyllis Cooper, had began his broadcasting career with NBC Chicago in the early 1930s, where he created one of the most blood-chilling anthology series of all time, Lights Out. Heading to Hollywood mid-decade for a screenwriting career that never quite took off, Cooper handed Lights Out over to a young Arch Oboler,” who used it as a creative springboard to fame and success. By the turn of the decade, Oboler was a household name and Cooper, struggling away over scripts for low budget B-movies, could only dream of what might have happened had he stayed with the show himself.
Cooper moved to New York in 1940 and returned to radio during the war years, working as a producer for The Army Hour and accepting other network and advertising agency assignments. Despite his film studio commitments, he had always kept a foot in radio, writing scripts for such big-time network shows as Hollywood Hotel and The Campbell Playhouse. Finally, in 1947, he was given the chance to once again create and produce a new and different half-hour fantasy-mystery-horror show for the Mutual Network. Assigned a terrible time-slot (Sunday afternoons at 3:30), a minuscule budget, and airing over a network whose affiliates had only a nominal commitment to carry the show, Quiet, Please debuted on June 8, 1947 to the resounding disinterest of the vast majority of the listening public.
But, from the beginning, Quiet, Please had a unique and disquieting style that quickly pegged it as a series to keep an eye on. Thanks to his NBC Chicago background and his many years toiling thanklessly in Hollywood, Cooper was used to dealing with small budgets; he recognized early on that, though no sponsor meant little money, it also meant little executive interference — a fair trade-off for a man set on using radio in the most innovative and creative ways possible. Also early on, Cooper called upon the talents of a man he had known from his days with The Campbell Playhouse, Ernest Chappell, who had served as the announcer for that program. Chappell had previously been a radio newsman but, aside from a number of announcing assignments over the years, he had seldom ventured into performing. However, despite his lack of experience, Chappell had the one thing that Wyllis Cooper wanted: the ability to tell a story simply, directly, and without the artifice of “acting.” With the kind of weird, supernatural, and often surreal stories that Cooper wanted to tell on Quiet, Please, Chappell proved to be the perfect man for the job: enough vocal talent to be convincing, enough experience and timing to know how to deliver a line, and intuitive enough to be able to portray a wide range of well-developed characters in simple yet distinctive ways.
Mutual, recognizing that Quiet, Please had potential, soon moved the show to Wednesday nights at 8:30 PM and even arranged for exclusive east coast broadcasts via its flagship station WOR New York on Monday nights at 10:00 PM. Nevertheless, though enthusiastically received by those who heard it, audiences remained small, sponsored remained disinterested, and the budgets remained minimal. At the start of the 1948-49 season, the show moved to the ABC Radio Network and returned once again to Sunday afternoons (this time at 5:30 PM), where it remained until being briefly moved to Saturday nights just before it breathed its last on June 25, 1949.
For decades, Quiet, Please languished in obscurity, well remembered by those who heard it but seldom revived. Wyllis Cooper returned to NBC Radio in 1951 to create a new anthology series titled Whitehall 1212, based on the cases of Scotland Yard, and also wrote for the new and burgeoning medium of television before passing away at the age of 56 in 1955.
The transcription discs for Quiet, Please were in deplorable condition, with pops, scratches, hiss, and other audio artifacts that could not be removed without destroying the content of the programs. The project was daunting — but we were lucky in that restoration technician Mark Koldys was a big fan of the series and was willing to tackle its restoration. Mark is a well-known producer of classical music and is also active in the re-release of many movie soundtrack recordings, so his time is limited — but, still, he spent three full years working to bring seventy-six half-hour Quiet, Please shows back to life once again. Second by second, minute by minute, and hour by hour, Mark struggled to clean up the shows to the best of his expert technical ability.
We are pleased and proud to be able to offer these shows to you: 76 full-length broadcasts — but be aware that these shows are being offered with a few important and significant notes on their content and quality:
* These programs, though taken from low-generation tapes and restored to the best of our ability, remain the worst sounding shows that the Archives has ever restored. A great deal of work has gone into making them sound as good as possible, but they retain a great deal of the wear and tear of the discs from which they came.
* If you purchase radio shows primarily because of the audio quality, you might not want to purchase this set. Despite sounding far better than they ever have before, these Quiet, Please shows remain a challenge to enjoy on a strictly casual basis.
* Unlike some radio mystery shows which have mellowed with age, Quiet, Please remains a bizarre, unique, and frequently terrifying exploration of what might best be called an alternate reality — a reality bearing a strong and recognizable resemblance to our own, yet chillingly separate from it. Cooper’s stream of consciousness writing technique, combined with the voice talents of Ernest Chappell and a small group of additional performers, sometimes make experiencing Quiet, Please somewhat similar to driving past a horrendous automobile accident on the highway: you really don’t want to see it, but somehow you can’t make yourself look away. Cooper was extremely adept at guiding and manipulating the minds of his listeners, which means that, once heard, some of these programs will likely stay with you for years to come. Simply put, if you are easily frightened, we strongly encourage you to avoid listening to these shows alone — particularly in the dark. Really. No kidding. We mean it.