Mystery Writers in Old Time Radio

Although sometimes maligned for its pulp-magazine origins, Hard Boiled Detective fiction has become a fixture in romantic literature. The genre delights in emphasizing emotions of apprehension, terror, awe, and even horror while filtering the emotions through the cynicism of the protagonist. The cynicism results as a reaction to the violence that the protagonist faces.

The typical Hard Boiled Hero faces senseless violence on a daily basis, and the hero’s cynicism is a defense to help prevent him from going mad. In some cases,  it may be a manifestation of madness. In any case, it is this very cynicism that we enjoy in the Hard Boiled stories.

With this in mind, it is interesting to take a look at some of our favorite Hard Boiled authors. These are the minds that have given life to many of the stories which have delighted radio listeners, movie goers, and readers for decades. Were these minds as troubled as the characters they created suggest? Perhaps so, in some cases. In others, the writer seems to be having as much fun as we are.

James M Cain (1892-1977) personally hated labeling, but came to personify the Hard-Boiled novelist and screenwriter. Cain’s most famous novels, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice are tales of infidelity and murder. Both novels have been retold several times on the screen. The stories were apparently inspired by the true-life case of Ruth Synder, the New York housewife who plotted with her lover to murder her husband for the insurance money. Both were executed in Sing Sing’s electric chair.

John Dickson Carr (1906-1977) was a master of the plot driven “closed door mystery”. An American who spent time in Great Britain, Carr is often grouped with English Mystery authors. In addition to his novels, Carr penned a number of scripts for Suspense, and his radio play Cabin B-13 was expanded to an entire CBS series. During WWII, he wrote mystery and propaganda scripts for the BBC.

Frederic Brown (1906-1972) is best remembered as a Sci Fi author and a master of the “Short-short” form of storytelling (many of his best works are less than 1000, some less than 500 words long). Many of his stories have been adapted for popular Sci Fi television, including the Star Trek episode “Arena”. Brown’s crime novels are noteworthy for their tight plotting and riveting suspense, reminding us of the noir influences of Cornell Woolrich.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) wrote crime fiction almost exclusively, but her work is considered to be artistic and thoughtful enough to rival mainstream fiction. European critics consider her to be an important psychological novelist, pretty good for someone whose writing career began by writing for comic books. Her novel, Strangers On A Train was first adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock.

John Micheal Hayes (1919-2005) is remembered for his screenwriting collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. He had missed much of his primaries schooling due to recurring ear infections, but while bed ridden he developed a passion for reading. Hayes began writing for radio while in college after winning a contest sponsored by the Crosley Corporation. After serving in WWII, he moved to California and continued his radio career, contributing scripts to The Adventures of Sam Spade, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, My Favorite Husband, Your’s Truly, Johnny Dollar, and others. Radio success led to a call from Universal, and eventually to collaboration with Hitchcock on four films, including Rear Window.

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) has been called “the dean of the ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction”. Hammett was an agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency before he began writing (he found the agency’s role in union busting distasteful, however). His best known stories include The Maltese Falcon, which introduced Sam Spade, The Thin Man with Nick and Nora Charles. Hammett’s nameless character, the Continental Op is considered the prototype for the most popular Hard Boiled characters, including Hammett’s own Sam Spade, Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and several others.

Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968) has had more of his stories adapted to film noir scripts than any other author in the Hard Boiled Genre. He began writing Jazz Age romance novels, but turned to detective fiction, often writing under pseudonyms. Many of his stories were adapted for Suspense.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) turned to writing pulp fiction at the age or 44 after losing his job as an oil company executive. Chandler and his character Philip Marlowe had an enormous influence on the style of hard-boiled fiction. Indeed, Marlowe as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, is considered the model for movie Hard Boiled Detectives.

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Happy Birthday, Carol Channing! Enjoy her Old Time Radio Broadcast from 1955

Today we celebrate the 97th birthday of the actress, Carol Channing.  Dubbed “First Lady of Musical Comedy”, Carol Channing was primarily a comic stage actor.

Born on January 31, 1921, she debuted on stage in “No for an Answer” (1941), She made her Broadway debut in “Proof Through the Night” (1942) and appeared on the silver screen in the film “Paid in Full” (1950).

Channing went on to appear in additional films such as “The First Traveling Sales Lady” with Clint Eastwood.   She is best remembered as Muzzy Van Hossmere in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” for which she won a Golden Globe award.

Please enjoy this rare radio broadcast of Anthology from June 5, 1955: “The Lives and Times Of Archie and Mehitabel” in which she appears in the recording:

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Country Music Parleyed Strong … Just Ask Johnny

Old Time radio never would have had the following it enjoyed if not for the music venues that were offered from coast to coast. Americans loved to tune-in and catch the hits and wonders of the day in various musical genre. One of the more prolific and popular trends was that of country music. Country music caught the attention of many listeners because it brought things down to the roots of the nation. Country music spoke at a time when people were needing to have heels kicked up with the heaviness of life; economically, foreign problems, family strife; hitting people where they lived.

Johnny Cash brought the “old time religion” back into America’s hearts and homes and inspired people to gather around their tables and pray. His brand of folk-tale “talk” worked well with the American working man, because he came from the dirt of the land and carried his homespun words of ‘wisdom’ to millions of listeners every week. Cash had the innate ability to warm a heart the moment he started to “speak’ a song.

Country music singers, like Johnny Cash, denied the critics that branded their musical repertoire as “fit for the simple”. If the music catered to the less intellectual, well then much of America must have been simple. People loved the Grand Ole Opry and they loved their night time visit around the radio to hear the songs that comfort and told a story.

Country style music…ah heck, call it what it is…country lovin’ music played to a need in the country on the airwaves. The need was to be be reminded of what this country meant to people. The need to be be brought home again. Finally, the need to know neighbor could count on neighbor. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash knew that people loved God, country and family and used that as the theme to regain the consciousness of the American radio audience. “If the Circle be unbroken” then thank country music for keeping it secured.

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Old Time Radio Christmas

The shopping and preparation for Christmas is when the retail industry makes their biggest haul of the year. It just wouldn’t seem right if Santa didn’t start showing up in the stores before the Halloween candy was put away. In the last few weeks before the Big Day, many of us are sticking the buds of our MP3 players in our ears just to drown-out those darn chipmunks and listen to some Christmas OTR.

Fibber and Molly had plenty of terrific Christmases in their long run as well. Fibber had more than his share of problems with the Wistful Vista Christmas salesman over the years. On different occasions,  he tried to cut down his own tree to trusting his haggling skills. Perhaps his finest Christmas Tree moment came in 1945 when he uses an attachment on Molly’s vacuum cleaner to paint the tree white!

Everyone loves to get into the Gift giving spirit, but Santa can be a positively dangerous job. In fact,  Santa manages to get “rubbed out” on Nero Wolfe, Rocky Fortune, and Casey, Crime Photographer. Murder and death don’t really fit into the joyous season, but Sgt Friday manages to use them in one of the most depressing Christmas episodes on radio, the “Rifle for Christmas” episode of Dragnet.

Dragnet also gives us one of the most uplifting Christmas episodes in “Big Little Jesus”. During the Los Angeles Christmas craziness, it seems like a senseless crime had been committed, when it turns out that a poor little boy who received a red wagon for Christmas is keeping a promise he made to the Baby Jesus.

Whether OTR keeps you company while you are driving from one seasonal errand to the next, or if a few episodes keep you smiling while you wait for the last batch of Holiday cookies cool, we hope that you will enjoy this Christmas Season.

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Christmas Episodes: Bergen & McCarthy and Great Gildersleeve

Christmas is too special of a holiday to be restricted to just one or two days. Yes, the Big Guy in Red coming down the Chimney and filling the stockings, followed by the kids ripping into all those beautifully wrapped boxes, is the high point of the season, but the anticipation of Christmas really is the best part.

Back to Christmas on the radio, Charlie McCarthy faces a little competition when Edgar Bergen’s 9 year old daughter Candice appears on the 1955 Christmas edition of the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show. Bergen does a marvelous job of being the straight man for both Charlie and Candy as the two youngsters present their version of Twas the Night Before Christmas.

The Great Gildersleeve lasted for 13 Christmases, and the writers loved every one of them. From the very first season, 1941, when Gildy “graduated” from Fibber McGee and Molly to his own show, the Gildersleeve household was making the adjustment to having their own show in the weeks following Pearl Harbor. Gildy had two Christmas shows that year, both of which were seasoned with War news. In the middle of the month, Leroy and Gildy have to deal with Iron Reindeer, and just before Christmas the Great Man tries to find an inexpensive gift for his pal Fibber, only to get caught in a cycle of “gift inflation”.

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Recommended Series For First Time OTR Listeners

There are so many facets to the world of Old Time Radio, it is hard to know where to start enjoying it. The truth is there is so much to enjoy in OTR, it is easy to imagine that almost anything you pick out will delight you.

But that still leaves you with the difficult job of choosing! Lets look at a few of the options: Most OTR fans get started by choosing a genre of shows they enjoy. There are Adventure programs for action fans, for those who enjoy a good puzzle there are a number of great Detective and Mystery shows. If your day isn’t complete without a few good laughs there are several comedy programs, ranging from sketch driven variety programs to character rich situation comedies.

The great thing about enjoying OTR today is that there are so many ways and places you can enjoy it. For many of us there is nothing that makes a commute enjoyable than following an exciting adventure serial program. At the end of the day it helps to remove the stress of the work day by trying to solve a mystery along with a hard boiled detective during the drive home. Time spent working in front of the computer goes a lot better listening to the songs and jokes of a variety show. With a good set of noise-reducing earbud speakers attached to our pocket MP3 player or cellphone, some of us are even known to enjoy listening to the cowboys in Western programs while mowing the lawn!

Many purveyors of Old Time Radio try to sell their programs on the nostalgia appeal. Sadly, most of the people who are nostalgic for these shows are no longer with us. Most of the series and shows are very enjoyable in their own right, but we feel that knowing a little bit about the actors and the programs make them even more enjoyable. Hopefully they will whet your appetite to know more about these great shows.

Some of our favorite genres and and shows include:

Mystery and Horror:

These are the late-night shows that make you want to pull the bedsheets up over your eyes! Most will agree that the most blood-curdling ghost story is even more frightening on radio!

Mystery In The Air features one of the creepiest voices and personalities ever to grace the screen, Peter Lorre.

The Whistler is a collection crime stories where the justice always comes to the villain, but not a way that he or the listeners would expect!

Suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat with nearly a thousand episodes of “Radio’s Outstanding Theater of Thrills!”

Lights Out! was one of the original late night thrillers with stories written by two of radio’s greatest talents, Wyllis Cooper and Arch Oboler.

Inner Sanctum Mysteries is like having Halloween every week with creepy stories, dark jokes, and creepy thrills.

Weird Circle brings us a collection of classic ghost stories.


These shows will take our imaginations to the far corners of the world.

Escape! features some of the greatest stars Hollywood, Broadway and radio in some great original and adapted stories.

Cloak and Dagger is based on true stories of the Operatives of the OSS, predecessor of the CIA.

The Adventures of Superman. Much of the legend of the original comic book hero was actually developed on the radio.



There can never be enough things for us to laugh at, and Radio brings us some of the best!

You Bet Your Life, developed as a sort of game show, the program was really a chance for Groucho Marx to simply be Groucho!

Fibber McGee and Molly is nothing but good-hearted fun featuring a well meaning schemer who seems to have never held a steady job and his long suffering but happy wife along with his friends and neighbors.

The Jack Benny Program is a collection of music and skits built around a character who was everything that the real Jack Benny wasn’t, vain, cantankerous, and cheap!

Crime and Detective:

Whether we are following the wits and bravery of hard working policemen and brave private eye, or pitting our wits against one of the great detective, everyone enjoys Crime and Detective stories.

Dragnet starring Jack Webb is a series of exciting stories based on true cases of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Tales of the Texas Rangers brings us more true crime stories from the Oldest and Most Well known law enforcement agency in North America.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar is the story of an investigator for insurance companies with an “action-packed expense account”.

The Adventures of Nero Wolfe is a humorous collection of the cases of a rather eccentric but incredibly intelligent crime solver whose effectiveness isn’t hampered by his girth.


More serious stories, but still greatly entertaining, our dramas include tales from literature, great movies, and even “serial dramas”.

Academy Award Theater, adaptations of Hollywood’s best movies, all Oscar Winners.

Dr Christian was one of the great wash-tub-weepers that kept house wives entertained with their continuing stories and weekly cliffhangers.

Lux Radio Theater brought the stories of the best movies to the radio, featuring a full orchestra, and usually the film’s original stars performing before a live audience.


Science Fiction:

Sometimes condemned as “kid stuff”, several radio programs treated Sci Fi as serious literature.

Dimension X and X Minus One had stories from the pages of great SciFi magazines and the best and most influential SciFi writers.

Space Patrol was meant for kids, but the space-opera was based on the best scientific knowledge of the time.




Some of these are kid shows, and others are serious adult drama, while others are treasures of great country music!

Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel were serious drama that never allowed the gritty reality of the rough and tumble West get in the way.

The Six Shooter featured the acting talent of the great James Stewart and some of the best written stories of any radio genre.

Melody Ranch featured the music of one of the screens great singing Cowboys, as well as a story or two of genuine ranch life.


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Singin Sam “Barbasol Man”

When we study the personalities of Old Time Radio, every once in a while we encounter the story of what appears to be a very happy man. One such person was Harry Frankel, better known as Singin’ Sam.

Harry was born in Ohio in 1888 to a men’s clothing merchant who soon took the family to Danville, Kentucky.  The family business would take them to Richmond, Indiana when Harry was nine, but by this time the “Old Kentucky Home” had a hold on the lad. For the rest of his life, Harry was a Son of the South. In 1908,  Harry joined Al G. Fields’ Minstrels and began his vaudeville apprenticeship.

In 1930,  an offer from the Great States Lawnmower Company allowed Harry to leave the hectic life of vaudeville, and he settled in Cincinnati, to sing over WLW as Singin’ Sam, The Lawnmower Man. Exposure on WLW led to an opportunity to move to New York to become Singin’ Sam, the Barbasol Man. Life in New York was not happy for the confirmed Son of the South, and he left after three years, but first he met and courted Helene “Smiles” Davis. Harry and Smiles settled in Richmond, and soon Harry was again singing for Barbasol on national broadcasts originating in Cincinnati. In 1937, Harry became a “Jet-Set entertainer in the pre-jet era, flying to New York twice a month to record a series of shows for Coca Cola, Refreshment Time With Singing Sam. The transcribed shows were distributed nationally while Harry got to spend his off time at home with his wife, Smiles.

Sadly, this happy man was cut down by a heart attack at the age of sixty. Much too young for someone who made his living happily singing “old songs”. For finding lasting success on his own terms, we have to tip our hat to Singin’ Sam.

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