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Shock Theatre debuted in September of 1957 with Zach appearing as Roland, a crazy character who lived in a crypt. Charlie Vanda, the president of WCAU came up with the name and as Zach is quick to point out, the accent was on the second syllable -- Ro-LAND. Roland had an assistant named Igor, and his wife lived in a coffin. The wife was referred to as "my dear" and occasionally Roland would make her day with a well-placed thrust of a wooden stake. (The stake was actually driven into a bucket of dirt). Other times he would join her in the coffin while watching the evening's film with the audience. Another character was Gasport, Roland's son who hung formlessly from the wall in a burlap bag and moaned.

On one hilarious occasion, Roland sent an unwilling Gasport into outer space in a guided missile, and that was the beauty of the WCAU studio; it was large enough to drive a truck into or shoot a rocket from. Photographs from the WCAU days show the set as being eerily elaborate with craggy walls, a spiral staircase and all of the trappings of a mad scientist's laboratory.

Oh, The Memories . .
Roland opened each program by walking down the staircase and then reciting some little bits of info in a ghoulish voice. People who were regular Roland followers have said that Zacherle's performance at WCAU was usually more gory than broadcasts on WABC or WOR. For example, he would occasionally carry a basket down the stairs with him and reveal to the viewers that it contained a severed head complete dripping blood, which was actually, chocolate syrup.

Originally, the program was aired in the 11:15 late night movie slot on Monday and Tuesday. However, the show was popular not only among adults but among children as well. Therefore, the program was moved to Friday and Saturday and Roland's popularity increased in leaps and bounds. At one point, there were in excess of 800 Roland Fan clubs in Philadelphia and kids could be spotted all over the city wearing large black buttons that said "Roland" or "l like Igor." Zach was even the subject of a feature article in the August 16, 1958, issue of Saturday Evening Post called "T.V.'s Midnight Madness."

Zach Jumps In
It was at WCAU that Zach, in the guise of Roland, stumbled upon his most unique and creative bit of satire. This was known as the "break-in" or "jump-in", whereby, Zach would insert himself into the actual film, usually, to great comedic effect. The first time this occurred was during a broadcast of The Black Cat with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Writer/Producer, Ed White, originally got the idea. In this instance, Karloff was presiding over a devil worship ceremony and at one point the camera panned to close-ups of the various participants. The WCAU cameraman shot to Zach making a face and then back to the film. Everyone at the station thought this was "hysterical," so they tried it with other films. It became one of the more popular elements of the Roland show and many people tuned in waiting for each break-in, which they discussed the next day with friends.

Mob at WCAU
One of the more famous incidents at WCAU was the open house held at the studio, so that, all of Roland's fans could meet their hero. The executives at the station expected 1200-1300 people but realized that as many as 2,000 might show up. In actuality, 14,000 people showed up, stopping traffic throughout Philadelphia and damaging the WCAU facility. Needless to say, WCAU executives vowed to never hold another!

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