In 1938, Captain Midnight debuted to a limited Midwest audience. Created by Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burn, the show was initially sponsored by the Skelly Oil Company. The products featured by the sponsor forced the series to focus on an adult listening audience. Hardly kid friendly, the sponsor promoted gasoline, oil and tires. In addition, the syntax used in the character dialogues was more adult in nature and was often lost on the younger listeners. Nevertheless, the serial proved to be a success.
In 1940, the Wander Company picked up sponsorship of the new series to promote its child friendly Ovaltine products and the serial began broadcasting nationwide on Mutual Radio Network. The move also brought a change in the scripts, which were designed to specifically target the young audience, who could influence the consumption patterns of their parents.
In September 1942, the series moved to the NBC Blue Network; however, the Wander Company moved the series back to Mutual Radio in 1945, where it would stay until the last broadcast. Also by this time, the serial had gone from fifteen minutes to a thirty-minute format. The sponsor also introduced various premiums and prizes, such as the code-o-graph, decoders, rings, telescopes and World War II paraphernalia, which appealed to the young listeners. Soon, listeners had the opportunity to interact with the show, by using the code-o-graph to decode secret messages at the end of the episode.
When the series originally aired in 1938, Captain Jim “Red” Albright was a veteran World War I veteran fighter pilot. Captain Jim became Captain Midnight after receiving the specially coded name from a general who sent him on missions that ended just before midnight. After his return to private life, Captain Midnight used his own plane and spent his time helping those in need of assistance. The Wander Company sponsorship transformed Captain Midnight into the crime fighting head of the Secret Squadron. The Secret Squadron fought against spies and espionage rings.
As World War II approached and U.S. involvement became imminent, Captain Midnight was once again transformed. Instead of fighting international espionage rings, the focus on the enemy became more specific. Writers turned the everyday villains into members of the Axis. Names like Baron von Karp and Admiral Himakito clearly stressed that Germany and Japan were the villains and enemies of the world. Captain Midnight scripts mirrored the U.S. involvement in the war effort. The popularity of the series also increased at this time, as servicemen and women stationed on U.S. military bases and depots became faithful listeners.
Captain Midnight also reflected the changing gender roles in U.S. society. Just as Rosy the Riveter came to symbolize the role of women in the war industry, so did the characters of the Captain Midnight series. Female villains were just as capable and ruthless as their male counterparts were. Heroines also worked under the same premise, as they were as brave and courageous as the heroes were. Unfortunately, to the dismay of many listeners the Captain Midnight series ended in 1949. One of its lasting legacies is that it will forever be associated with decoder rings and Ovaltine.
Enjoy Captain Midnight episode 28 :