Blame Horror Movies, Pt. I: The Mystery of Dead Ernest

"Watch This Channel Grow!"

an early 1970s ad for Ted Turner’s WTCG 17

For decades, Atlantans argued that Dead Ernest was none other than Ted Turner. That’s right. We honestly believed that before satellite Superstation WTBS, before CNN or The Cartoon Network, before Turner Network Television or Turner Classic Movies, this media mogul had dressed as a warbling backwoods ghoul to introduce the Friday night horror movie. It was an irresistible rumor.

It was plausible, too. There are no clips or stills of Dead Ernest, nothing to mark his passage, and that fits with the story that Dead Ernest was chiseled from the obelisk as an embarrassing relic of Turner’s small-time UHF past. Even the time frame was an estimate: Dead Ernest hosted Friday Night Frights on Turner’s channel 17, WTCG (“Watch This Channel Grow!”) from around 1972 to 1974 or 1975. Nobody seems to remember exactly when it started or ended (although some will remember that the slick intro superseding Dead Ernest’s stint on Friday Night Frights was just a collection of ominous video effects set to “Bruce’s Theme” from Jaws).

Who wouldn’t want to erase the memory of playing Dead Ernest? He rose from a plywood coffin wearing a tie-on cape, pasty make-up and a pair of dime-store vampire fangs. Thanks to the fangs and his thick southern drawl, his agonizingly drawn-out patter was nearly unintelligible. He was a joke, a bizarre waste of airtime, an excuse to go get another popsicle during the station identification break. We called him “Count Crackula from Peckervania,” but we showed up at the tube faithfully, every Friday night at 7:30.

We showed up despite Dead Ernest. We showed up for the movies, which were wonderful. AIP or Amicus to start, with racier Hammer films topping off the double bills. Toward the end of the evening, the station identification breaks featured Dead Ernest reading the newspaper or pretending to bathe in his coffin as if he had run out of his limited schtick by the end of the first feature. He was no Robert Osborne.

He was no Ted Turner, either. Diligent researchers at E-Gor’s Chamber of TV Horror Hosts reveal that he was Bob Chesson (he passed away in 1990), then an employee of Turner’s Charlotte, N.C., Channel 36 WRET (“Robert Edward Turner”). The segments were pre-recorded to run in Charlotte one weekend and then sent USPS to Atlanta for the following weekend.

The mystery has been solved, whether Atlantans want to believe it or not.

Of course, what with his AOL/Time Warner shares going tits-up, Turner might consider revisiting the Dead Ernest option….

Ever wonder about your local TV horror host? Check out E-Gor’s Vault @ http://myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts/index.html.

Also, watch American Scary, a loving tribute to the men and women who hosted our late-night horror movies, from Vampira to Son of Svengoolie. Streaming on Netflix.

James Kendley launched his fiction career in 2009. He has published numerous short stories and two novels, The Drowning God and The Devouring God. He has written and edited professionally for more than 30 years, first as a newspaper reporter and editor, then as a copy editor and translator in Japan (where he taught for eight years at private colleges and universities), and currently as a content wrangler in Northern Virginia.

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One comment on “Blame Horror Movies, Pt. I: The Mystery of Dead Ernest
  1. Fred Teaster says:

    I am sorry (not sorry) but you do not speak for everyone. As kids growing up in the Queen City during the early seventies my brothers and myself absolutely loved Dead Ernest … we lived for Friday nights .. and yes we lived for his cheesey-ness, we loved it. As a five year old I was captivated by him and loved every moment … more so Dead Ernest than the movies.