A brief history lesson: in the time before cable tv we only had a few channels to choose from and every market had at least one UHF station. UHF was the less powerful portion of the broadcast spectrum and home to the independent stations while the network affiliates tended to broadcast in mighty VHF. UHF stations were where the good stuff was: Star Trek reruns, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Gilligan, The Monkees and all the other shows we loved. But the best was saved for late Friday nights or Saturday afternoons: the horror hosts. The big cities had the famous hosts: Ghoulardi, Svengoolie, Zacherley and the rest. But the smaller markets had their guys too.
For any of us growing up in central Florida during the 70’s, our guy was Doctor Paul Bearer. I lived for his Saturday Creature Feature on WTOG-44 out of Tampa-St. Petersburg. His act was the typical horror host schtick of bad puns and lip synching to Tom Lehrer songs. But it was his truly creepy appearance that made him special. He looked like a 19th century undertaker but the greasy hair, the (genuine!) glass eye, the deep baritone and a set that looked like something from a serial killer’s private tapes had us believing this guy was real.
Dr. Paul Bearer was played by Dick Bennick, a local DJ and magician who truly loved being a horror host for 30 years, right up until his death of heart problems. I can attest that he was the talk of the middle school every Monday and seeing him atop a hearse at a local parade was my first ever celebrity sighting.
I’m sure the horror hosts were an afterthought for most stations, just something they threw out there to get the kid’s attention and maybe get some people to watch the crappy movies they showed. But they had an immense influence on a generation of kids; my life long love of sci fi and horror movies can be traced to Dr. Paul Bearer, along with Famous Monsters and Monster Times magazines.
There’s not much information on the internet about Dr. Paul Bearer and almost all of his shows have been lost. We have to rely on surviving VHS tapes from his viewers and there aren’t many of those either. There’s a terrific interview with Dick Bennick here, possibly the only time he ever really sat down and talked about his career. You can also find some clips on YouTube, along with many other great local hosts.
Who was your local horror host? Anyone care to share some memories?