Batman Casey Crime Photographer Dragnet Duffy's Tavern Gunsmoke Jack Benny

When Settings Become Characters: Casey Crime Photographer and the Blue Note Cafe

The setting is one of the first elements defined in storytelling. The author will often select a certain setting for the mood it will evoke in the reader, although it is also true that a story takes place in a specific location because it is one that the author knows well enough to allow the story to flow. The time period is also an element of the story’s setting which helps the listener know what to expect from the characters.

Part of the magic of radio drama is that the writer and the actors, who are working in a studio somewhere, can take us anywhere and anytime. Most OTR fans can picture dozens of places that they have never been to but know almost as well as their own living rooms. The living room at 79 Wistful Vista; Jack Benny‘s house next door to Ronald and Benita Colman with a vault in the basement and the kitchen in back where Jack does laundry for hire; the foggy San Francisco waterfront where Pat Novak for Hire foils bad guys; The offices of Spade and Archer where Sam Spade dictates his case notes to Effie; the grimy streets of post War Los Angeles in Dragnet; the dusty prairie around Dodge City in Gunsmoke. The listener may have never been to any of these places but when he hears a few notes of the program’s theme music, he is transported there.

Batman Comics

The detective or private investigator usually has a safe place to retire between cases, or somewhere safe to contemplate the clues in the case he is working on. The most obvious example is the famous Batcave (interestingly even though Batman never had his own series during the Golden Age of Radio, he and Robin appeared in several story arc of Mutual Network’s Superman; although the Man of Steel never sees the Batcave, Clark Kent does visit Stately Wayne Manor). Sherlock Holmes‘ apartment at 221B Baker Street still receives fan mail addressed to the mythical detective. Jack Casey of Casey Crime Photographer and his girlfriend, reporter Ann Williams, could often be found whiling away the hours at the Blue Note, a jazz club in the wrong part of town.

A bar seems like a natural lair for a private eye, there is the privacy of darkness even at midday, strong drink to help the P.I. focus his thoughts, and any number of unsavory characters passing through to bring fresh clues. However, the radio networks were incredibly protective of the family-friendly atmosphere of their programs, which made the Blue Note an interesting anomaly in radio.

Crucial to any good bar scene is the trusty bartender, and the lead mixologist at the Blue Note is none other than the enigmatic Ethelbert. Although his position provides Ethelbert with more than his share of street-knowledge, he is more often employed as a sounding board for Casey and Ann than a real source of intel or even advice. With a rather affected Brooklyn accent, Ethelbert seems to be modeled after Archie the Bartender at Duffy’s Tavern and seems nearly as clueless. Although Ethelbert contributes relatively little to whatever case or story Casey and Ann are chasing, he is the beyond-the-workplace glue which holds the couple together. In this way he is even more effective than an office romance (and all the stickiness that would imply).

Jan Miner also played the role of “Ann” on Casey Crime Photographer

Although a number of actors would play Casey and Ann over the years (most notably Jan Miner and Shakespearean actor Staats Cosworth), John Gibson would voice Ethelbert for eleven years, mixing drinks and metaphors to the delight of all. In fact, because the program played during family hours, Ethelbert served far fewer drinks than the club’s owners would have preferred. The Blue Note Café was better known for its house band than its bar, and when the Teddy Wilson Trio was on the show, some critics felt that the band had a bigger following than the show.

Country Western Music Detective Radio Dragnet Escape Fibber McGee and Molly Gunsmoke Have Gun Will Travel Horror Show Inner Sanctum Mysteries Old Time Radio Suspense X Minus One Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

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.


Supermoon Sunday: Dragnet’s “Werewolf” Old Time Radio Episode


With the Supermoon coming on Sunday, we remember one of our all time favorite werewolf stories. Dragnet‘s “Werewolf” aired June 17, 1949.

The women are left half-dead, victims of robbery and horrible attacks. “The Werewolf” as dubbed by the local papers, was a maniac that attacked, beat, and robbed 18 victims. The attacks are so brutal leaving the women in the hospital with horrible wounds, that Joe Friday fears the Werewolf will kill…and he’s right. 


Joe Friday makes plans to have decoy 14 policewomen walk around between 3:00 A.M. 5:00 A.M. in the morning when the Werewolf was known to prowl on waitresses leaving work. After the werewolf is not caught with the decoys, the police are grasping for clues.

A set of stolen licence plates during the night leads Joe Friday to the car used in the crimes. Later a woman is attacked taking a letter to the mailbox and describes a large, hairy man that tried to grab her. When a young mother of three is found dead in an empty lot, a huge dragnet is called around the city to find the murderer.

Will they find the “The Werewolf” before more women are attacked and murdered?

For more werewolf action, see the Old Time Radio Dog Collection.

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.

Academy Award Theater Bette Davis Dragnet Fatal Females Lux Radio Theater Old Time Radio

Fatal Females in Old Time Radio

If you’ll check the record, the first Femme Fatale was a lady named Eve. Since then, Fatal Females have come in all shapes and sizes. It is fun to list the famous ones: Salome, Jezebel, the Sirens, Delilah, Morgan le Fay, Cleopatra. As beautiful as these ladies were, we can’t help but remember what happened to the good men who became involved with them.

The real danger of a Femme Fatale is of course her powers of seduction. This implies that the trouble that men get into isn’t really their fault; they would never be lead astray by a virtuous woman. Yet it is little surprise that men aren’t all that interested in virtuous a woman. The danger of a Femme Fatale is part of her attraction, sort of a role reversal of Good Girl’s attraction to the Bad Boy. The classic Femme Fatale is at least somewhat exotic, like the Eastern allure of spy Mata Hari, or the bombshell good-looks of a moll from a Hard-boiled Noir-detective story. In any case the male victim knows that here is a dame he should have nothing to do with, but he can’t help himself.

Our collection of Fatal Females starts with Academy Award Theater and Lux Radio Theater‘s productions of “Jezebel” with Bette Davis. Lux goes on to give us a number of femme fatale stories, including “Samson and Delilah” and “All About Eve”.

The ladies who show up on Suspense! are likely to be up to no good, but then again, almost everyone who turns up on Suspense! is pretty much suspect.

Speaking of suspects, Sgt. Joe Friday brings us more than his share of baddies in his pursuit of “just the fact’s, ma’am.” Private detectives of both the Hard and Soft Boiled variety get to deal with untrustworthy Dames, and we bring you examples from Sam Spade, The Fat Man, and Have Gun, Will Travel; Paladin’s adventure has the potential to be deadly but turns out even more dangerous, as the Lady falls for the gun fighter!

Of course we haven’t forgotten the classic Fatal Female, Cleopatra herself. Blackstone, the Magic Detective and Origin of Superstition deal with this deadly lady’s legend while Stroke of Fate reminds us what happens to one of her boyfriends in “Julius Caesar”.

Enjoy this episode of “Cat Wife” from Lights Out:

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.

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 Shaming

You 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?