Local Saturday Night Horror Shows

The elder statesmen of the Boomer generation have memories of watching some pretty scary flicks in theaters in the 50’s. That decade is considered by many to be the penultimate era of the horror movie. A website (now gone) site listed 72 movies of the genre that were produced between 1950 and 1959.

So what happened to all of those flicks, many of which were shot on a shoestring budget? And, for that matter, what about all of those Lon Chaney (Jr. and Sr., Warren! R.I.P.), Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff classics from the 30’s and beyond? Would they be doomed to disappearance, as has been the case of thousands of films whose very material existence disintegrated?

Not a chance. Local TV stations saved the horror movie.

In the 60’s (like today), days lasted 24 hours. However, the network that a local station was affiliated with would provide a limited amount of programming. That meant that a station would have to fill in the dead air time with SOMETHING. After all, if you ever broadcast static when viewers were in the mood to watch TV, you might permanently lose an audience.

Weeknights of the 60’s and early 70’s had Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, and Dick Cavett to fill the 10:30 (11:30 to you east and west coasters) to signoff slots. But on Saturday nights, before NBC’s groundbreaking SNL, they were on their own.

Well, time for a reality check. Who watches TV on Saturday nights late? Dudes who don’t have dates, and kids. After all, our WWII generation parents would turn in by 10:00. So what would appeal to that demographic (and meet strict FCC regulations, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more)?

Ergo, the profligation of Saturday night horror movie-fests on our local stations.

Dimension 16 began shortly after UHF station KUHI out of Joplin, Mo. began broadcasting. UHF stations of the 50’s got a royal screwing, thanks to FCC regs of the 50’s, but by the next decade, they had a shot at real profits. New TV’s were being built with the ability to receive the channels above thirteen. Joplin affiliate KUHI began broadcasting in September, 1967. The brand new station (unviewable by thousands with 50’s era TV’s) was looking for programming to fill vast hours, and launched Dimension 16 as a 10:30 Saturday night offering.

The show would feature a moderator who would introduce the black and white horror movie and pop back in at commercial breaks to throw a few yuks at the audience before the next batch of local business’s ads would air while viewers went to the can or grabbed another beer.

The premise was repeated at TV stations all over the nation, and forgettable B movies like The Leech Woman, Tarantula, and Dead Man’s Eyes were played over and over to eager audiences. Of course, genuine classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Werewolf also got lots of airplay.

Ft. Smith, Arkansas later had Boo! Theater, featuring Dr. Zechariah X. Boo and his sidekick, Melvin the Dummy Mummy.

The Saturday night horror flick show has passed, as have so many other things we grew up with and assumed would always exist, Fortunately, the movies we watched have been preserved. Sadly, many Hollywood classics have physically vanished because their master films have disintegrated. But thanks to the demand for horror movies by local stations in the 60’s, The Leech Woman survives!

10 thoughts on “Local Saturday Night Horror Shows”

  1. I used to love Dimension 16 when i was a kid! I grew up in Joplin and remember waiting all day on Saturdays for the scary movies. The Mushroom People stands out in particular for me but there were so many great movies.

  2. I too watched Dimension 16 growing up in Parsons, KS. It used to scare the bejeebers out of me! “Do you know where your children are?” 😧 Thank goodness we still have Svengoolie on MeTV to watch!

  3. Spent many a sleepover with my childhood best friend watching Dimension 16! I had forgotten the placard that came up just before it would start: “The time is now 10:30. Do you know where your children are?” Then, the scary music would start and the Dimension 16 placard would appear, scary eyes and all! My buddy and I would pull our sleeping bags a little closer to the screen, wide eyed and ready to be terrified! At midnight, we would switch over to KYTV Channel 3 in Springfield and, if we were lucky, maybe another classic horror/sci-fi flick would be coming up on KY3 At The Movies. Then, some time later, Dimension 16 started showing double features, then we were set until at least 1:30am! Wonderful memories!

    1. Yes! That picture with the scary face that they would show before and after commercials! I had forgotten about that!

      1. Oh I grew up on dimension 16 in Joplin. Still remember the call letters KUHI. That’s how I found this search. I was so little in 1967 I didn’t understand most of what was going on but I loved it to be scared. Especially knowing it was pretend. I would settle down with my parents with popcorn at 10:30 on Saturday night. Mom made a pallet on the floor but she only sat on the couch and my dad would stretch out on the pallet with me but 10 or 15 minutes into it he would be sound asleep. I would sit right up close to the TV and when the scary music and the placard with the eye came on, I would jump up and squeal and run to the kitchen. When I worked at my nerve to come back and settle down and watch the show. There are so many old favorites that I don’t think we can find anymore. They were so scary when I was little but now I am almost 60 and would love to see them again. Especially that really creepy one with the guy who was hit by radiation and tore up a little girls doll trying to pretend he was OK. That was really scary when I was little but I sure would like to see it now.

  4. Oh, if only there was some kind of documentary or other means with which to relive those glory days of Joplin’s channel 16 and ‘Dimension 16’ in particular (gee, I wonder how long they brain-stormed THAT title?). My brother Randy and I grew up on comics such as ‘Creepy’ and ‘Eerie’, so were perfectly aligned for the ‘Dimension 16’ rollout. SO many titles come to mind, I’d be hard-pressed to pick a fave, but one that always creeped me out every time was ‘The Monster of Piedras Blancas’, about a lobster-like humanoid creature that came up from its cave by the sea to kill people (by decapitating them. YIKES!). Pretty…ahem…”heady” stuff for a 8 year-old! I’d dearly love to once again see that scary drawing shown at the beginning of each show, along with the spine-tingling music! “It’s ten o’ clock…..do you know where your children are?” My folks did; in front of channel 16 on Saturday nights!

  5. I fondly remember Dimension 16 and the scary eyes… That and KTUL Channel 8 out of Tulsa with the Plenty Scary Movie. Were the best. I don’t ever remember having watched Boo! Theater, though… What times! I would go back in a minute…

  6. I did a project several years ago writing an application that simulates several kinds of retro TV stations using whatever video files I could find combined with re-creating custom ones. One such “channel” on it is an approximation of Dimension 16, complete with “creepy eyes” bumpers. All I needed was a pile of old Hammer horror movies and the like (and lots of black-and-white movies from the 1930s-1950s) and a “signing off” clip with the national anthem afterward (plus the test pattern and a bit of static for the full effect). For a while, I remember KUHI also ran a W.C. Fields theater in that time slot, so I made that an option as well. On nights when I can’t sleep, I run that channel and it knocks me out in minutes just like it often did when I was 6, except I’m not on the living room floor now. Did it really play on Saturday nights? I remember it being Friday nights…

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