Christmas Christmas Radio Shows Detective Radio Dragnet Jack Webb Old Time Radio

Sgt Joe Friday’s Dragnet Christmas

“TUM de Dumdum, Tum de Dum Dum DUMMM!” Christmas is found on the mean streets of Los Angeles. One of the saddest possible Christmas stories is Dragnet‘s “Twenty Two Rifle for Christmas.” The story about an unsupervised boy whose friend is killed with his Christmas present, then hides the body is enough to do more for a holiday depression than credit card bills. “Twenty Two Rifle” became a Dragnet tradition and was broadcast for three years until the writers decided it wasn’t uplifting enough for the joyous season.

The old mission church, the oldest in Los Angeles, is attended mostly by the poor Mexican families in the area. Several years ago the parishioners took a collection and purchased a nativity scene that had been displayed in the church every year. The Baby Jesus from the display is missing on December 24th. Father Rojas explains to Sgt. Friday and his partner Frank Smith that the baby Jesus is the only one that many of the people had ever known. With less than twenty four hours before the first Christmas mass, Friday doesn’t hold much hope they will find the thief, but he does his best. Other cases are unfolding, but this is important to Friday. They interview the altar boys, and check out the local religious supply stores with little success. They do find a suspect, but his alibi that he is preparing for a Christmas program for down-and-outers checks out. Finally the detectives are forced to tell the Father that they cannot find the statue in time for the Christmas mass, but they will continue through the following week.

As they are speaking to the padre, the doors to the church open, and a young boy pulling a shiny red wagon comes in. Riding in the wagon is the baby Jesus. Young Paquito Mendoza haltingly explains to the Father in Spanish that for years he has prayed for a red wagon for Christmas. This year in his prayers he has promised that if he gets his wagon, he will take Baby Jesus for the first ride. As the statue is lovingly replaced Father Rojas explains that the local firemen refurbish toys for poor children, and that is where Paquito’s wagon has come from. The Padre says that Paquito’s family is very poor. There is not a dry eye around the radio when Sgt. Friday asks “Are they Father?”

Both of these Christmas Radio Shows would be adapted for the small screen when Dragnet came to TV, with “The Big Little Jesus” done in two different versions; first in 1953, then remade using the same script in 1967 as “The Christmas Story.”

Detective Radio Dragnet Jack Webb Old Time Radio Police Drama

21st Precinct and Dragnet, East and West Coast Cop Shows

The phenomenal success of Dragnet, premiering in 1949, was bound to have imitators. One of the Columbia network’s answers was 21st Precinct.

Comparisons between the two police procedural dramas are interesting. Both shows emphasize the human reality of police work. The sound effects are an important part of both shows, especially the background noise and chatter in the police station and the sounds of automobiles, and police jargon peppers the dialog.

The differences between the two programs are compelling. 21St Precinct takes place in Manhattan, where as Dragnet is very much a part of the 50’s west coast scene of Los Angeles. Twenty First Precinct is seen through the eyes of the precinct captain, and so gives us an overview of the entire precinct’s business. While a single case is the focus of each episode, we also hear the captain’s distractions as different cases and police business are thrown in.

Dragnet focuses on the work of a single police detective sergeant and his partner. The partners serve in the various divisions of the department, thereby giving us a glimpse of many different facets of police work. We also are allowed brief looks into the personal lives of Sgt.s Friday and Romero, which are not part of the plot, but help to make the characters more real.

Although Dragnet makes more use of dramatic devices, the very recognizable theme music and “the names have been changed” disclaimer, Jack Webb managed to create a much more realistic feeling program. This is due to the gritty feel of the program, and Webb’s portrayal of Friday as a “cops cop”, tough but not hard, conservative but fair and understanding.

21st Precinct lacks the “grab the audience by the throat” quality of Dragnet , but the stories, based on real events, are very well written and performed. In addition to being great police drama, 21st Precinct also gives us a good aural picture of Manhattan in the 50s.

Detective Radio Jack Webb

Jack Webb in Pete Kelly’s Blues

Jack Webb with his wife, Julie London from 1953.

In Pete Kelly’s Blues:

Pete Kelly (Jack Webb) fronts the house band, the Big Seven, at a speakeasy in the roaring ’20s is a world of jazz, gangsters, gun molls, g-men, bad booze and desperate people trying to save their skins.

Enjoy this episode broadcast today 60 years ago titled “Dr Jonathan Budd”:

Comedy Detective Radio Dragnet Father Knows Best Old Time Radio

Old Time Radio Father’s Day Shows

Mom gets all the credit.

Maybe that’s fair; she had the really tough part for the first nine months of the project. It seems like Dad is there mostly for the fun parts. Learning to ride a bike, going to your first ball game, teaching you how to make “fart noises” with your arm-pit…

The emotional ties that go along with fatherhood are just different from those to Mom. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, WA, is credited with the idea of the Father’s Day Holiday. She got the idea while listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day, for which neck-tie manufacturers are eternally grateful. But if Father’s get the second holiday, they at least get to make a bit more fun out of it. Mother’s Day is a day for flowers and breakfast in bed. Father’s Day is an excuse to get some really good steaks for the summer’s first serious grilling session. After all, Father Knows Best!

If you don’t believe us, just ask Robert Young. Probably everyone wishes they had a Dad as understanding as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best. Here again we have a wise and ever patient mother along with a son bordering on the wise-acre phase and two daughters who have Dad wrapped around their little fingers. It is traditional in radio and television sit-coms for the kids to be cleverer than Dad. This convention isn’t as abused in Father Knows Best as it is in other programs, but Jim Anderson does get fed a plate of humility on a few occasions. In the episode featured in our Father’s Day Special he returns to a house full of the ordinary emergencies, but they are unimportant in comparison to how good his golf game is going. And how good it will be when he gets into the championship round. Hopefully his pride won’t get the best of him, which it might. Who knows what could happen when he hurts his back the night before the semi-finals.

Not all Father’s can be as ideal as the ones we find in the radio sit-coms. And it should be no surprise that Sgt Joe Friday runs across some of the worst. We know that Friday will have no sympathy for someone who is breaking the law, but he seems to come close on this one; after all, the guy is just trying to get a present for his daughter. Friday almost breaks, until the guy complains- how could they declare me an unfit parent. Joe Friday oozes with irony when he points out that the crooks actions had just proved the declaration correct.

We hope you get a good tie this year. While you are waiting for the charcoal to get hot, turn on the radio and enjoy some of our favorite Father’s Day selections.

Detective Radio I Was A Communist For the FBI McCarthyism Red Scare

“I Was a Communist for the FBI” Radio Show Broadcast 58 Years Ago Today

The series capitalized on America’s Second Red Scare and the era of McCarthyism. In many ways the series reflected the Film Noir genre of Detective movies; the radio show was actually a takeoff on a film of the same name. Seventy-eight (78) radio broadcasts were produced. Although asked for input as well as endorsement, the F.B.I. made it a point to not cooperate with the production.

I was a Communist for the FBIAnti-Communist hysteria was at a peak during as taping began, and by the end of 1952, I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. was scheduled on more than 600 stations nationwide. The Show was a well done and well financed endeavor, and worth preservation for that reason alone. A big selling point was that the show was based on the real life adventures of Matt Cvetic.played by Dana Andrews.

The Man at the center of these stories faced double edged conflicts; Cvetic constantly jockeyed for information, walking a tightrope among suspicious Party Officials who would laughingly have him shot as a traitor if they found his true mission. All the while he is shunned by his family and community. He cannot reveal his mission to them because they may accidentally betray him, so they heap him with scorn as a traitor to his country and all they hold dear.


Enjoy this episode entitled “The Little Red Schoolhouse” broadcast 58 years ago today:

Amos and Andy Comedy Detective Radio Dr Christian Dragnet Jack Webb Mother's Day Old Time Radio

Happy Mothers Day, Even to Mother in Law

“Never depend on the glory of the Morning or the Smiles of your Mother In Law.”

-Japanese proverb

In the world of Old Time Radio,  Amos ‘n’ Andy Kingfish’s Mother in law comes to stay with him when Sapphire goes to Chicago, “That’s like trading Dracula for Frankenstein!”

Mother in Law ShamingYou have to wonder if it counts as returning from a pleasure trip when you come home after taking your Mother in Law to the airport…

Mother in Laws may not be the villain in your favorite Soap Opera, but they are not always a wife’s, or a wife-to-be’s. Just ask Dr. Christian’s young friend Wilma; how many times will her wedding be postponed by Howard’s mother getting sick? Maybe the Vaseline Hair Tonic will make life better in River Bend.

Behind every successful man is a proud wife. and behind her is a surprised Mother in Law!

George sure knows that feeling on The Burns and Allen Show. Gracie’s mother just isn’t pleased because George is so far from being handy. If only he could show her that he can fix things she would go back to San Francisco. If only faucet wouldn’t run when the doorbell is rung.

One man sadly told how he hadn’t talked to his mother in law for eight months. He didn’t want to interrupt her.

When Sgt Joe Friday has to investigate the “Mother in Law Murder” on Dragnet is it any wonder that the Daughter in law is the primary suspect- who could blame her?


Detective Radio Fibber McGee and Molly Old Time Radio Serial

The Shadow of Fu Manchu

A gong sounds and Gerald Mohr ominously intones “The Shadow…of Fooo ManChoo.”

There is a long period of eerie organ music at the beginning and end of each episode; this is because the show was recorded for Syndication. The long organ music is space for the local announcer to make his plug.

During the period following the Boxer Rebellion, the West was filled with fears of “the Yellow Peril.” The Rebellion had been pushed by a Secret Society, and there was a dread of these Societies gaining influence in the Chinatowns of American and European cities.

Author Sax Rohmer became familiar with the reputation of “Mr. King” in London’s Asian districts. Supposedly, Mr. King had a piece of the action in most illegal activities in the district; at the mention of King’s name, Chinese merchants became visibly terrified. Rohmer used Mr. King as the inspiration for his master villain, Fu Manchu.

Dr. Fu Manchu had an incredible intellect, and an incredible invisible empire. Dr. Fu had “all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources… of a wealthy government, which… has denied all knowledge of his existence… Dr. Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

Fu Manchu would become the model for many arch villains: Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon, Lo-Pan from Big Trouble in Little China, Dr. Yen-Lo in The Manchurian Candidate, and James Bond’s adversary, Dr. No.

The Fu Manchu stories would be serialized in Collier’s Magazine in 1913. The first of several radio incarnations of the stories would be on The Collier Hour over the Blue Network starting in 1927. Probably the most popular incarnation was the syndicated The Shadow of Fu Manchu, recorded in the winter of 1938-39. Lou Marcelle, the uncredited narrator of the film Casablanca, played the evil Doctor. The actor’s identity was hidden for many years, until identified by radio historian Elizabeth McLeod in 2002. Two well known character actors took the roles of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie: Hanley Stanford of Blondie and Baby Snooks; and Gale Gordon, Mayor LaTrivia of Fibber McGee and Molly and Principal Osgood in Our Miss Brooks. Paula Winslow played the lovely and seductive Karamaneh (one of Fu’s most dangerous agents, Karamaneh was sold as a slave to the Dr. as a child. She falls in love with Dr. Petrie and saves our heroes many times.) Gerald Mohr (The Adventures of Philip Marlowe) narrated and played several small roles.

Much of Fu Manchu seems less than politically correct, especially as China is becoming an important trading partner, and given the great contributions of Chinese-Americans. But the Fu Manchu stories are a product of their times.

In the end, The Shadow of Dr. Fu Manchu is diabolical fun in a grand criminal manner.

Detective Radio Mr Keen Old Time Radio

Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons: Quicksand Murder Case

Although primarily known for their work in Musicals and Soap Operas, Frank and Anne Hummert had a degree of success with Detective/Mystery radio programs. The mystery shows had many of the elements that the couple used in their Soap Opera Factory. Indeed the shows were often criticized by hard-core mystery fans for being overly melodramatic, but they were and are entertaining, and some enjoyed long term commercial success.

Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons first broadcast over the Blue Network on Oct 12, 1937. Through the years the program would change networks (but usually remaining on CBS), sponsors, timeslots, and even formats; originally a 30 minute weekly, late in the run it became a 15 minute nightly broadcast. Very few recordings of the original 1690 nationwide broadcasts are known to exist. For that reason it is happy news that Old Time Radio has recently added to the episodes in their collection.

For nearly 20 years Mr. Keen, described as a “kind, elderly, boring sleuth” fought crime along with his assistant, Mike Clancy. Clancy carries much of the Immigrant stereotyping (“Saints preserve us, Mr. Keen!”) that was so prevalent in Vaudeville and the early days of radio. Keen’s private detective agency had little animosity with Official Law Enforcement (“We usually work with the Police, Ma’am.”) that is common with later Private Eyes. Early in the run the “Missing Persons” part of the show was somewhat forgotten, and most of Mr. Keen’s cases revolved around murder. Audiences didn’t seem to mind; The program lasted until Apr 19, 1955.

Enjoy this episode from June 1950 “The Quicksand Murder Case”:

Detective Radio Old Time Radio Serial Soap Opera

The Hummert Radio Factory

Frank HummertHalf of all the advertising revenue generated by daytime programming in the 30s and 40s came from programs created by Anne and Frank Hummert.

Anne’s father believed that it was a waste of money to educate a girl, so she finances her own education as a College Correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. After her graduation her journalistic career took her to Paris where she married John Ashenhurst, who would at one time be the youngest editor of a major US daily newspaper. When the couple returned to the US and settled in Chicago Anne was unable to find work in journalism, so she took a position as assistant to advertising executive Frank Hummert. Anne quickly rose through the ranks of the ad agency and was made a vice president, with a salary of nearly $100,000 at the age of 28. Together Frank and Anne would make their mark in the new genre being developed by pioneer Irna Phillips, the Soap Opera.

Their first success would be Just Plain Bill, the continuing story of a barber who marries well above his station. Other successes quickly followed, many of which had very long runs. Mary Noble,Backstage Wife told the story of a small town girl who moves to the big city, falls in love and marries a prominent actor who is “the matinee idol of a million other women.” Deceit, jealousy, avarice and amnesia all become part of Mary’s life as she is forced to compete with the jezebels and hussies that have designs on her husband. Beginning in 1933, Ma Perkins would have a run of 27 years. Ma lived in the small town of Rushville Center. There her family owned a small lumber yard, which supported Ma’s family, but was also the center of many deceits as relatives and towns people tried to take advantage of Ma’s simple kindness. Early in the drama Ma was combative and spiteful, but through the years she became a kind hearted sage and the conscience of the community.
Ma PerkinsAfter working with Frank for five years, Anne’s marriage ended in divorce about the time Frank’s wife passed away. In 1935 they were married, apparently happily for their many years together, although Frank was two decades her senior. After marrying the moved to New York and began Air Features Inc, which would become a kind of factory for radio drama. Anne would write the concepts for their many shows, then the ideas would be turned over to “dialoguers” who would fill out the scripts. Frank had a talent for finding and keeping happy clients for their shows. Anne maintained an incredible work load, outlining all of the plot developments for their various programs. Through the McCarthy years it was noted that Air Features Inc refused to fire good writers who had been blacklisted.

In addition to their Daytime Soap Operas, the Hummerts produced a number of musical programs and Crime/Mystery shows. At one point their output had 18 separate serials on the air, 90 episodes a week.

The Hummert shows include Amanda of Honeymoon Hill, Judy and Jane, Little Orphan Annie, The American Album of Familiar Music, Young Widder Brown, Stella Dallas, Manhattan Merry Go Round, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, Frontpage Farrell, Inspector Thorne, The Romance of Helen Trent, Hearthstone of the Death Squad, and The American Melody Hour.

Dana Andrews Detective Radio I Was A Communist For the FBI

Dana Andrews: “The Face of Noir”

Dana Andrews was an A-List Hollywood talent during the 40s, but was relegated to mostly B-movies during the 50s. His career extended into the 1980s.

Born into the family of a Baptist Minister, Andrews spent his earliest years in Mississippi before the family moved to Texas. In 1931 Dana traveled to Hollywood to seek his fortune as a singer. It took nine hard years before he got his big break. During this time he was forced to take small jobs like pumping gas in Van Nuys, although one employer was confident enough in him to finance his acting lessons.

In 1940 he signed with Sam Goldwyn. His first role was as in The Westerner, starring Gary Cooper. His best early role was as one of the lynching victims in 1943’s The Ox-Bow Incident starring Henry Fonda.

Andrews starred as an obsessed detective in Laura (1944) (also starring Gene Tierney) and as a soldier returning home in The Best Years of Our Lives (Best Picture, 1946.)

Alcoholism took a toll on Andrews‘ career, relegating him to mostly B-movie roles during the 1950s. It almost cost him his life on the freeway. Crediting the example of actor Ronald Reagan’s disciplined attitude towards liquor, he finally brought his alcoholism under control. In 1963 he was elected as President of the Screen Actors Guild.

One of those coincidences that could only happen in a long and colorful career: In the 1960 film, The Crowded Sky, Andrews’ character pilots a passenger airliner that is crashed into by a small military plane piloted by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. In Airport 1975 Dana Andrews plays a business pilot who suffers a heart attack and crashes into a 747 piloted by, that’s right, Efrem Zimbalist Jr!

Enjoy this old time radio show of  Dana Andrews‘ role as obsessed detective in the Lux Radio production of “Laura”: