Late autumn, deep dark—back then, in the mid-1980s, the roads weren’t so well lit. At the tail-end of a long family trip, warm and sleepy, it was easy for me (aged eleven or twelve) to slip into a fearsome place, where the line between a boy’s adventure and lost in the woods was thin indeed: from the backseat of my parents’ car, I listened for the first time to an episode of Nightfall, a radio production of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), originally aired in the late 70s/early 80s (so, unlike Inner Sanctum or The Hall of Fantasy, both originally aired in the 40s, Nightfall was modern, with synthesized music and state-of-the-art studio production to prove it). The episode was “No Admittance/No Exit,” a story about an automated emergency clinic that determines treatment based on patients’ potential to contribute to society. Certainly, the story scared me, but it needn’t have for Nightfall to have kept me up that night, because the show’s opening had already done the trick.
That opening: A crash of notes high on a piano’s keyboard, like shattered glass, the sound of wind, and the host’s introduction: “In the dream you are falling, lost in the listening distance, as dark locks in…” a scream—a man falling—and then the host’s emphatic, “Nightfall.”
Maybe it sounds hokey to you youngsters, and maybe it is, but that intro was intoned by Henry Ramer, and he made it all sound so serious. Ramer was known to listeners of Nightfall as “your host.” He set up each episode, not in the cackling, punning style of The Crypt Keeper, who you know isn’t good for you, but like a gentleman—a gentleman with an upstairs torture chamber and a basement full of wicked science. “Good evening,” he said, not like Bela Lugosi (or someone impersonating Lugosi), but with a hint of vocal fry and an even sense of humor. Then, “tonight I would advice you to make certain that all of your escape routes are clear. The play is called, ‘No Admittance/No Exit’”—extra emphasis on “exit”—the kind of emphasis one would place while pulling the mask off to reveal that he has no face!
On November 12, 2009 Neil Marsh wrote to tell me that Ramer died. (Marsh is the author of the Nightfall Project, a website dedicated to the history of Nightfall, for which Marsh contacted many of the cast and crew, including Ramer (before he died!). Marsh and his research was invaluable when I wrote about the show; the resulting article appears in the current issue of Open Letters Monthly.) Here you’ll obituaries and Marsh’s “In Memoriam.”
Ramer provided the voice for numerous cartoon characters, including an invisible villain on a Canadian animated incarnation of Spider-Man, did voiceover work, commercials, and appeared in films, including The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Between Friends. It’s as the host of Nightfall that I knew Ramer—his voice has long been a part of my peculiar internal landscape. I hear it often: when I re-listen to episodes of Nightfall, and in my head, when I think certain words Ramer said best.