Having nearly 30 continuous years on the air under his belt, Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino is quite possibly the nation’s longest-running-without-a-break horror movie host, and for good reason: the man puts on a very funny, very entertaining show every week, bringing Northeast Ohioan’s (and now others!) the terrible sci-fi & horror movies and edgy attitude they’ve craved ever since Ghoulardi burst on the scene way back in 1963. From 1986 to 1995, Son Of Ghoul ran on WOAC TV-67, and when the station was sold, without missing a beat he jumped to WAOH TV-29 in Akron / WAX TV-35 in Cleveland, where he remains to this day. At one point, he even hosted a live local call-in game show, titled Son Of Ghoul’s House Of Fun And Games!
Mystery Science Theater 3000 may have introduced me to the movie-mocking world first, and I was casually familiar with Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time, but the guy more responsible than anyone else for introducing me not only to the legacy of our Northeast Ohio horror movie hosts but to horror movie hosts in general is without a doubt Son Of Ghoul. I discovered his show during a Halloween, 1997 broadcast of Night Of The Living Dead, and I became a huge fan instantly. That image above is all too familiar to me: Son Of Ghoul in the dungeon, introducing us to that week’s terrible movie, it’s something that kicked off countless weekends for me. And you know what? 16 years later, I’m still a huge fan. I still get a charge finding out what each episode’s terrible movie is going to be. A lot of local TV has come and gone over the years, but Son Of Ghoul is still on and plugging away, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
So, when I had the opportunity to interview the man himself, it was incredible to realize that I was conversing with the guy largely responsible for not only shaping my hobby, but even my sense of humor. I’ve met SOG many times over the years, and he’s never been anything but generous to his fans. It’s one thing I really admire about our local celebrities, the fact that I’ve never seen an air of superiority or “I’m doing you a favor by talking to you” attitude when you speak with them. I remember the first time I met SOG: It was shortly after discovering the show in ’97, and he was making an appearance at a local comic book store. I was clearly nervous talking to him (hey, I was 11 years old), but he was completely personable and friendly. Heck, he even checked out a comic book I was buying with me! There aren’t many celebrities, local or otherwise, that would go that extra mile for their fans.
So, all that said, without further ado here is my interview with Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino, horror movie host and badass extraordinaire.
Me: Thanks again for doing this!
Son Of Ghoul: Oh, no problem!
Me: I really appreciate it! It’s blowing my mind right now!
SOG: Don’t blow your mind out! You still gotta ask questions!
Me: Okay! Well, first off, 27 years as a horror host, continuous, is pretty impressive. I don’t think there’s too many that managed to hang in there that long without taking a break or anything.
SOG: Well, there were a lot of guys, plenty of ‘em, that started before me, such as Svengoolie from Chicago, I believe he started a few years before I did. But, I think he had a 10 year absence, he was gone from the air. Now, I believe I might be, now I’m not sure about this, but I might be the longest continuous-running costumed horror host in the country at this point.
Me: Yep, I think you’re right!
SOG: Now, [Big] Chuck’s been on definitely longer than me, but he doesn’t wear a costume. Or maybe that face of his is a costume, I don’t know! [Laughs]
Me: Yeah, I guess technically they were horror hosts [Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John], but they didn’t really do the scary thing. It’s a little bit different.
SOG: Yeah, they kinda moved into just regular movies hosts, and now, their show’s cut down to just skits, which is cool, I’m glad they’re still on. Very cool.
Me: But how’s that feel to basically be the longest one?
SOG: Well, you know, it’s cool. I’m pretty proud of it. You know, it’s no big deal, nobody really cares. [Laughs] It’s one of those non-celebrated factors. And here in Ohio, I think they have a Broadcaster’s Hall Of Fame, and I think one of the thing’s is you have to be on 20 years, 25 years something like that. They will NEVER recognize my existence in the Broadcasters Hall of Fame! Which, I think’s kinda funny, but that’s okay.
Me: Well, you never know.
SOG: No, I don’t believe that’ll ever happen! [Laughs] I think I’m well beyond qualifications! Maybe I just don’t look the part!
Me: Well, sort of going back, there’s a lot of guys that would be on and then sort of, you know, drop out for a few years, come back, drop out, that sort of thing, and you’ve just been going steadily the entire time. Was there ever a point, either at [WOAC] channel 67 or now on WAOH where you thought the show might end or they might cancel you, or…?
SOG: Well, I think that every day!
SOG: That’s true, I do think that every day. I do, at least. You never know. I’ve learned one thing: Nobody is, NOBODY is sacred to the screen. I feel very privileged to have been on this long. I know one day it’ll be over, I don’t know when that’ll be. One of the things everybody keeps on telling me when I go out doing appearances, they all say “Please don’t stop.” So, as long as I get a good timeslot, I guess I’ll stick around for awhile! I’m not really in a hurry to go anywhere any time soon.
Me: Well Saturday at 7’s not bad.
SOG: For the first 9 years I was on at a typical 11:30, 11 o’clock timeslot, and I didn’t know if it would work primetime. But, I found that I prefer to be on early. A lot of people my age can’t stay up that late anymore! [Laughs]
Me: I wish that WAOH, I still call it “The Cat”, I know it’s not technically The Cat anymore but I still call it that, I wish that they would still air you two nights in a row like they used to.
SOG: Well, everybody used to say “I watched it the first night and if I didn’t like it I’d think why catch the movie the next night?!” Well, it was fun being on two nights, and for awhile there I was on three days in a row.
Me: Oh yeah?
SOG: When I was doing the game show.
Me: Right, right.
SOG: We did a live game show Wednesday night, and Thursday they would show the movie show, and repeat it again of Friday. Now since they’ve hooked-up with RTV, now it’s Saturdays at 7, so you know that’s not too bad, that’s okay.
Me: Going back to the channel 67 stuff, I know a lot of guys even as late as the 1980’s, other horror hosts, the stations they were on would wipe their shows, record over them, things like that. Do you still have everything you did from both channels?
SOG: Yeah, I have all my shows.
Me: So there’s no worry about something ever becoming “lost”?
SOG: Well, yeah there is: Deterioration from poor storage. All of my shows were produced, back in those days, on U-Matic ¾” videotape, which was a giant cartridge with wider tape. That was 67’s major broadcast output, ¾” tape. All of my shows were produced on that. The trouble with those tapes is they don’t store very well over the years, and we’re talking now 27 years later of poor storage, and they’d really have to be in an air-controlled climate all year round. And, just like any videotape, if it sits on the shelf, it doesn’t move, it deteriorates. Tapes are meant to play. Everybody should fast forward their tapes and rewind them every once in awhile if they want to keep them longer. The trouble is, some of the oxide has fallen off some of my early shows, like my 1st Christmas show, the New Years show, those are trashed, they won’t even play. You put the tapes in the player, it clogs the heads in about 30 seconds. So, I lost a number of shows through deterioration. I’m in the very, very slow process of transferring the old shows. The old shows, all I have is my segments, I don’t have the movies that go along with them because in those days we actually paid for movie packages and we only had so many runs on each title. That’s the way it worked back then. Unlike now, where I can dip into the public domain library, which is free gratis, and which is “What you see is what you get!” [Laughs]
Me: Were you allowed to do sound effects and things during the channel 67 shows?
SOG: Yeah, we did. And I actually did them live, as the movie was running over the air, for awhile. Then we had about 5 or 6 people that complained to the general manager of the station, who was kind of a panty-waist…
SOG: …So he stopped me from having sound effects because he didn’t want to have anybody complain. Then, it ended up to be that I’d be able to do it once in awhile, which, I didn’t care, because it was a lot less work for me. Back in those days of 67, I also worked a 40-hour week at the station doing other jobs.
Me: I’m surprised people would complain about it, because anyone watching you would know you were doing the Ghoulardi thing, Ernie Anderson used to do that.
SOG: Well, everybody had something to say about it. “Too much sound effects!” “Not enough sound effects!” “You ruin the movies!”. So, what I do is put sound effects in the movies we’ve seen a thousand times, most of the horror classics. If I run a comedy classic like the East Side Kids or even a thriller classic or suspense like Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone, I’ll leave those movies alone as-is, because I figure they’re pretty good.
Me: I think that’s great you do the East Side Kids, the Bowery Boys, because there’s really nowhere else to see them. I don’t think anyone plays them.
SOG: It’s funny, because people complain about that, “You’re running East Side Kids? I don’t even watch those!” and then other people tell me, just like you, they tell me they like the East Side Kids. So, I learned over 27 years that it’s impossible to please everybody, so what I ended up doing was doing what *I* wanted to do!
Me: [Laughs] That’s the way to do it!
SOG: It saves a lot of headache!
Me: How about when you were working with The Cool Ghoul, George Cavender? What was that like?
SOG: When I came in, I was an outsider, George had his production crew in place, and he had his little clique of people that kinda hung around and he did his skits with them. I was an outsider and kinda came in the side-door. And, slowly, kinda weaseled my way in. I can’t even say that I was part of the crew, I was in a way, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t an official crew member, but I would do different jobs. If one week the camera guy didn’t show, then I might be a camera guy. And another week I might be the hand coming out of the box, or just standing off to the side, or doing a bit part in a skit or something like that. And, then I landed a job at the station as a board-operator, and when Cavender quit, I just slid into place. The thing about having a horror movie package was that they obviously had an audience watching the show. And I went in the office, said “What are you gonna do?” And, a couple other people were up for the job, they inquired about it. This one comedy troupe, they wanted to do skits, and this one person who made a lot of costumes wanted to do some skits. Fortunately for me, I was already an employee at the station, so I kind of had the little bit of the edge on the rest of them as far as that goes. And, my general manager was a native Northeastern Ohioan who grew up and remembered the days of Ghoulardi and The Ghoul and Superhost. Chuck & John and Hoolihan and all that. He was way hip to it. So, that helped, too.
Me: That’s very cool. I mean, 27 years later, he made the right choice.
SOG: It’s a labor of love. And now, the show’s basically into reruns. I’ll shoot something new occasionally and put something new together. I’m not saying we’re as regular as we used to, but, we still do. I’m just keeping the show on the air, and now, I’m on in Lake Tahoe, and also on at The University Of Tennessee.
Me: Well, I think even if a lot of it’s old stuff, it’s still better than not being on at all.
SOG: For new eyes, you never know who’s watching it. People come up to me all the time and say “I’d seen this skit you did!” and I’ll say “Oh yeah, that’s an old skit” and they’ll say “Well I never seen that one before” so you never know who’s watching on what night. I mean, look, Chuck & John have been running these old skits for 50 years.
Me: Yep. And you’ve got such a wealth of material that you could probably do that for quite awhile and still not get to everything you have.
SOG: Oh yeah, there’s stuff I’ve probably never shown. Like I said, I’m slowly transferring the old 67 shows, and a lot of them didn’t have run sheets to them, or it was lost over the years, so I’m always finding new little things.
Me: Are you the only one that has any copies? Like those ones you said deteriorated, unless someone finds a VHS tape somewhere, that’s it, or…?
SOG: The early stuff, who knows who has that. I’ve had tapes sent to me over the years, people say to me “Hey, I bought one of your tapes at a convention!” and the quality looks like 120th generation, just really looked bad. I don’t know, as far as I know, I’m the only one that has the old stuff. Unless, like you people out there with a collection of old VHS, if you have any old stuff, come through! Let me know! I’ll take it!
Me: Between WOAC and WAOH, which one do you think has “run the smoothest”? Do you have any preferences? I’m sure there’s good and bad with both. Obvously with WAOH you’ve been on so long that something’s working.
SOG: WOAC was a whole different gig. We were an active TV station with a news department, a sports department. There were salesmen and secretaries and engineers on the ground. It was an everyday thing. All cable systems had saturation at the time. I don’t know, it just seemed like it was a little bit more busy, a bit more exciting. To me, at least. By the time I got to 29/35, I didn’t produce the show any longer, at 67 I produced the show on the property, in their studios, with their equipment. So, that was kinda cool too. Once I moved to 29, then I started producing the show away from the station in different production facilities. That alone was a major, major headache. I went from a manageable catastrophe to broken down equipment, to broken down cables, to moving a number of times. From having to buy all of the equipment myself to completely taking over the production myself. Which probably actually saved the show the last almost 15 years. I bought all the equipment and did everything myself. I still have a small crew, like I said, we’re not getting together like we used to. So basically, these movies, I do all of the sound effects, all the edits. Put the show together. It keeps me kinda busy!
Me: So it was much more expensive for you when you moved to WAOH? You had to take care of a lot of stuff that channel 67 provided?
SOG: Exactly. Everything that I thought was a hassle at channel 67, I wish I had that again, I didn’t know how good I had it till it was gone. There, if a camera broke down or someone snapped a microphone cord or something broke, you just wrote up a repair slip and the engineer fixed it the next day. And now, if I broke a mic cord, then I’d fix it myself, or go buy a new mic. If a tape machine goes down, you have to take it into a repair shop, which is $150 before the repairman turns the first screw. So, it was quite costly.
Me: Was it a shock when channel 67 closed down? What were they, sold to some infomercial thing in ‘95?
SOG: They were sold, they had always been for sale, they were sold to a commercial company and ended up, I think, selling out to a religion company.
Me: Was it surprising when it happened, or were you always kind of expecting it, or…?
SOG: The station was always for sale the whole time I worked there. We were told that the new owners were gonna dump a bunch of money into it and everybody’s jobs were gonna be secure. And it was absolutely the opposite of that. They came in one day and fired the entire station, except for the board operators and a few people in the offices! I had a contract that stated that I had three weeks in writing, and they said “Okay, you got three weeks.” So, in those three weeks, I made the deal with 29, and so I made the transition without missing a week.
Me: So you were never actually off-the-air.
SOG: No, I did that last show on channel 67 on a Saturday, and then the following Friday night, I was on at 29.
Me: Of your 27 years, what would say was the roughest time period?
SOG: A couple different things. That was definitely rough, that was real rough. When that transition took place, I felt that the production quality of the show was just horrible. The cameras were not even a step above home equipment. Yeah, that was tough, that was real tough. And of course when Fidge passed away.
Me: That was ridiculously surprising.
SOG: The people he was with didn’t look after him real well that night I suspect, so, what can I tell you.
Me: I met him at a Frightvision once, and he was just the nicest guy, he was such a cool guy. I got his autograph and everything And then, just a couple years later, he passed, and I just could not believe it. It just came out of nowhere.
SOG: Yeah, it was a tough transition. But, personally, I went 9 ½ years without him, and I had to become the buffoon again. Now the joke’s on me! [Laughs]
Me: How about Zippy? What happened to Zippy?
SOG: Zippy was a guy that worked at channel 67 and had that mask. He was really tall and when he put that mask on he looked crazy. His name was Terry Zimmerman, and now he lives in Oregon, I think Portland. He was a board operator for awhile and an old friend of mine actually. For a couple years there, he’d put on that Zippy mask once in awhile and did a number of stunts on the show, which was always kinda cool, it’s always fun to see those old bits.
Me: The first time I saw Zippy, it kinda weirded me out. I mean, that’s a crazy mask.
SOG: I don’t know where he got it, and I don’t know if he even has it anymore. I don’t know if it got lost, or actually, it was just real thin rubber, so it might have just kinda disintegrated. Not sure.
Me: What did you think about doing that game show? Was it your idea? Did the station manager’s bring it up?
SOG: The game show came about because at the time Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was the hot new game show and the whole country was crazy about game shows. And [station managers] the Klauses’ thought “Hey, let’s get on the bandwagon” so that was their idea to do the game show. We tried three trial nights of it, and on the 3rd night, I just took Fidge with me just for the heck of it, and everybody liked me beating him up! So, he became the score keeper.
Me: Would you do the live call-in game show again?
SOG: Yeah, it was fun. But, it was fun until they put a time delay on the game. All of a sudden, Janet Jackson exposed herself on national television, and the whole country was now freaked out and afraid to do anything that crossed the line. They even gave me a bunch of rules, “Don’t do this anymore, don’t say that anymore.” And, I just sort of ignored all of them…
Me: [Laughs] Did anything ever happen before the delay came in, where someone said something on the air?
SOG: Oh absolutely! People would curse and stuff all the time, and all I could do was just, I’d just look at the camera and cut everybody off. I’d have to hang up on everybody! Sometimes it would be right down to the last minute of the game and people who actually played the game, did it correctly, they’d get cut off and lost being a winner because somebody would say something foul. We’d go to commercial and just die laughing! Once the delay happened it just took away the spontaneity of the game, because the people that were on, it was no longer fun for them at all. If you’ve ever called a radio show and you have to turn down your radio and all that, it just wasn’t fun for the people at home, I think.
Me: What was the reason for the game show ending? Budgetary reasons?
SOG: The reason was the station took a big hit and lost some money, and they just couldn’t afford to produce it anymore, to pay camera people to come in. They lost a few of their big informercial buyers who bought from them on a yearly basis. And they also lost some overnight home shopping that went on off a satellite, and those big buyers didn’t re-up. That was a big revenue loss for them, and at that point, they just pulled the plug. And in reality, the game show wasn’t pulling in money, we weren’t sold-out, we didn’t have sponsors for it. So that’s really the reason they cancelled that.
Me: It’s probably pretty hard to do pretty much anything without sponsors. That’s pretty much what drives the whole thing.
SOG: Yeah, and I always had to go out and be the salesman, be the sales guy, on-air talent, get all that stuff together at the same, and it was tough, really tough.
Me: When the channel switched over to an RTV affiliate in the summer of 2009, what were your thoughts on that? Were you ever worried about that? A lot of the local shows The Cat had on didn’t make the switch. I think it was basically you, Handy Randy and Steve French. Were you ever worried about not making the switch?
SOG: I didn’t even know they were gonna do it until they already did it. Like I say, every week I expect to hear a phone call, “Well thanks a lot, it’s been a nice long time.” But, I don’t know what’s next around the corner. Nobody’s sacred to the screen. Nobody.
Me: You were mentioning how you like to switch back-and-forth between old horror & sci-fi films and East Side Kids & Sherlock Holmes, which I think is great. I know a lot of horror hosts, they really only have access to the public domain stuff, and they sort of stick to the same couple of horror & sci-fi films. You’ve kinda realized that you don’t have to do just that.
SOG: Well, it’s my show. For me being a horror host, I’m pretty non-scary. I mean, I’ve got skulls laying around and stuff, but I really don’t go for the Dracula-type. My whole thing was always comedy. I was a big fan of The Stooges, Laurel & Hardy and The Marx Brothers and all that. So, I just throw on what I like. Like I said, I do what I wanna do! It’s my show!
Me: Isn’t that basically what Ernie Anderson did? I mean, he had ‘the look‘, but he was basically just going out there and doing whatever he wanted.
SOG: He wasn’t a very scary guy. He didn’t come off like a, a lot of these horror hosts try to be a Dracula-character or whatever, and I just didn’t find that to be believable.
Me: I know you’ve got a lot of movies from different genres, what is your favorite to show?
SOG: I don’t know, something like, there’s so many of them, like House On Haunted Hill, that’s pretty classic. I like doing Plan 9, that’s always funny. Some of those classics are really good. I really don’t have a favorite. My favorite’s the Universal classics that Svengoolie shows. I wish I could show Bride Of Frankenstein and Frankenstein and stuff like that. I’d love to be able to show that. If I had that package, I wouldn’t put sound effects in those classics.
Me: So those would probably be your “most wanted” ones to show, if you could?
SOG: Oh sure! I think every horror host dreams of showing those classics. You get these new guys, they show these new movies with a bunch of gore, blood & guts, and it’s just a little bit over the edge, they don’t leave anything to the imagination.
Me: After 27 years, what is your biggest thrill as a host? Is there a particular moment that stands out?
SOG: Wow. Different things at different times. It was a great honor to be a co-host of the Jerry Lewis telethon back in the say, for 9 years I was a local co-host, that was an honor. It was an honor to do interviews and get backstage to meet people like Paul McCartney and Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was a big honor over the years. I was really knocked out to be able to do that. And it was an honor to be featured in a Hollywood movie, it was honor to be flown out to the West Coast to do appearances. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs, it’s been one big roller coaster ride. “Big tall ups, big bad downs!” A lot of big ups, a lot of big downs.
Me: Now, after all that, all the things you’ve done, I know there’s the Ghoulardi book, Big Chuck has done a book, would you ever do a book?
SOG: I don’t think anybody would be interested!
Me: [Laughs] I would read a Son Of Ghoul book!
SOG: I’d sell one! I’d sell about one, you’d be the only one to get it!
Me: [Laughs] You think?
SOG: I don’t know, I’ve toyed with idea, I thought about it, and I don’t know. The stories I’d like to put in the book, I couldn’t tell, because I’d get too many people in trouble!
SOG: Those are all the good stories!
Me: So you’d have to sanitize it a bit?
SOG: Oh, that would be no fun! I’m not candy-assing the book if I do one! I mean, if I put this out, people’d be getting divorced, all kinds of trouble!
Me: [Laughs] But you know what, I think there’d be a market for it! I’ve seen the people at Ghoulardifest! You sell some stuff at Ghoulardifest!
SOG: You know what? I’ve never seen a larger gathering of homeless people in all my life!
Me: [Laughs] Alright, where to see your show. Some of the people reading this, I know they’re not from around here.
SOG: Channel 29/35 in Northeastern Ohio, and then you can see it on TNTV, Lake Tahoe, California, and they stream on the internet if you’ve got Firefox. I don’t know what they’re doing out there, you can get it over the internet.
Me: But it’s an actual channel out there besides the internet thing?
SOG: Yeah, it’s an actual channel and they also stream over the internet. That’s one of the reasons I did it, kind of like a webcast. If you’ve got Firefox, you can get that over the internet every week for free. And they show, also, my cartoon show. I produced 14 hours of me hosting classic old cartoons. Also, if you’re down along the University Of Tennessee, you can us on a volunteer channel down there, it’s an on-campus, closed-circuit TV channel, Plus, I believe, it’s on the cable system that surrounds the University. So, Tennessee, Lake Tahoe, and here in Northeastern Ohio!
Me: Alright, one more: After 27 years, is there anyone you would like to work with again? Whether it was a celebrity or a special crew member? Is there anyone you got along so well with you’d like to get in touch with them again?
SOG: I’m pretty much in touch with practically everybody I’ve worked with. There was a director in the early days, his name was John Case. If I had to work with somebody, I’d work with John Case, because he was probably the single most talented person that ever worked on the show.
Me: That is very cool! That is great! I can’t thank you enough for talking with me. My mind is blown!
SOG: [Singing] My mind is blown!
Me: [Laughs] This is just terrific, I can’t thank you enough for talking to me!
How do you describe a conversation with a guy you’re a huge, huge fan of? I think “awesome” works pretty well. During the entire (roughly 49 minute) interview, SOG was never anything but completely friendly and generous with his answers. And what an absolute wealth of information! I don’t know gang, I don’t think it gets much cooler than this!
Once again I’d like to extend my thanks to Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino for his generosity in granting me this interview and his time. The man is a legit badass.