Hey Lucky, get me rewrite!

My cousin in Memphis just told me she heard an episode of the classic series called “Night Beat” recently on a satellite radio show made up of golden age broadcasts.

I told her she’d found one of my favorites, and pointed her to my Night Beat page, where I’ve been aggregating my blog posts and notes about individual episodes. In the process,  I noticed that tomorrow is the 65th  anniversary of the first dated episode in the Internet Archive collections, one that I hadn’t written about before.

So here it is:

Sometimes identified as star Frank Lovejoy’s “audition” recording, it’s the only episode where his newpaper-noir columnist is named “Lucky Stone” instead of “Randy Stone,” and his paper is “The Examiner” instead of the “Chicago Star.” In the archives, it’s called 500113_Elevator_Caper.mp3

The title is from a dramatic scene that finds the hero playing cat and mouse with a killer in a Chicago skyscraper.

The series got rolling with the permanent names on Feb. 6, according to collectors logs, with another Chicago skyscraper playing a featured role memorable episode titled “Zero.” I will write something about that one later. (In it, an announcer introduces Lovejoy’s character as “Rudy,” but he’s agreed on “Randy” by the closing credits. Yes, radio drama was live, transcribed to discs, not to more editable audio tape.)

The “Lucky” audition — was it ever aired, or just recorded for prospective sponsors? — was eventually rewritten to change the names of reporter and paper.That version was broadcast a few months later; one archive copy calls its recording

The “Lucky” script explains his nickname. The Randy script does not. We will assume it is just short for Randolph. The other kind of randiness was not a regular feature of the program. On the other hand, some listeners might have been amused by an adaptation of the original name passage:

“Lucky Stone is the name. I’m the guy that writes that column that’s buried somewhere in the middle of your Examiner, called Night Beat.
“They call me ‘Lucky’ for the same reason they call a fat man ‘Slim.’ Because the best you can hope for on a job like this is chronic bronchitis, rings under your eyes, and the fact that you’re awake when regular folk are asleep.
“Sometimes the worst happens to you, a story grabs your heart and shakes it until you holler uncle. A corpse in a dark alley is the business at hand… ”

Students of script-writing might want to carefully compare the two versions of the programs to see how the writer eliminated the “Lucky” references and generally tightens the script. They might discuss the half-hour-broadcast economy of giving the newspaper a name of one syllable instead of three. Acting students might listen for differences in interpretation. English majors and other students of writing will enjoy the colorful writing, with echoes of the more poetic pulp fiction.

For journalism students, Night Beat is sometimes interesting as a “newspaperman procedural,” good for classroom discussion of Stone’s work process, his professionalism, his personal life, and the changes in the business over more than a half century — assuming that the radio drama had some relationship to reality.

Whether the hero is Lucky or Randy, this first script is more detective story then some later Night Beat melodramas. The police aren’t very interested in the murder of a 28-year-old they brand as a hoodlum.

The reporter has his own motivation for investigating the case. The dead man is an old friend, whom he had convinced to go straight. As part of his investigation, partly fueled by guilt over putting his friend on the wrong side of the mob, he eventually uses his column to publicly identify the gangster he thinks is responsible.

Could a reporter, even in 1950 Chicago, get that libellous an attack past the copy desk and keep his job? Could he survive mob retaliation?  For the answers to those questions, you will have to listen to the episode — either version — and maybe dig into a media law history book or two.

Movie fans will probably have a crooked smile on their faces when one of the villainous gangsters in this episode is mentioned. In the first version of the boadcast, his name is repeated several times in a conversation between Stone and a cop, “George Bailey,” like the troubled hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Maybe someone noticed. The revised script takes out the “George.”

The revised May broadcast is still a detective story, but the rewrite also gives Stone an introductory speech that sets the tone for later episodes, far from the crusading crime-busting reporters of “Big Town,” “Crime Photographer” and similar radio series.

In 21st century marketing parlance, this passage from “The Elevator Caper” sounds like an “elevator pitch” proposal for the entire series:

“They call my Night Beat stories human interest, which means after you’ve struggled through the latest atom bomb scare, the latest spy scare, the latest murder, the latest slaughter on the highway, you come to page 17 and Randy Stone.
“I’m supposed to give you a little breather, some nice simple human story to make you believe no matter how tough things are, the world has a heart. Only once in a while it doesn’t always work out just  that way. Human interest. Hmm. Oh yeah…”

Posted in 1950s, adaptations, Chicago, columnists, Drama, ethics, reporters, writing | Leave a comment

How do you know so much, paperboy?

“How do you know so much, paperboy?” — Detective Danny Clover to reporter Jed Stacy.

“Broadway is My Beat” was a mystery series broadcast from February 1949 to August 1954 by the same CBS network that brought audiences Crime Photographer. This time, the “beat” in question is a police beat, not the newspaper kind, but I’m skimming through the episodes for stories where the police detective crosses paths with journalists.

Here’s the first. The style is “radio noir” or “radio pulp fiction,” with prose so purple it borders on self-parody, about the street that Detective Danny Clover considers “the gaudiest, most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world.”

In this Aug. 11, 1949, episode Larry Thor played the detective as a tough-guy cop didn’t have a high opinion of newspaperman Jed Stacy, calling him a “scandal reporter for a rag that reports scandals.”

The Jane Darnell Murder Case” is a serial killer investigation that begins with an anonymous tip to the reporter that a woman by that name will be murdered that night. Reporter Stacy has the article all written before he invites his friend Clover to dinner and finally gives him the murderer’s note. While they are still at the table, he gets a call that the woman’s body has been found.

“Why didn’t you give me this before?” Clover says. “You’d play nursemaid to a murder for a beat, wouldn’t you, Jed? You’re gettin’ too large, kid; too large.”

Stacy makes no apologies.

Clover sounds angry, but Stacy isn’t about to be reformed. His large-living includes fancy cars and restaurants, but he does stay on top of everything — with a hint of the flash of New York’s original tell-all Broadway columnist, Walter Winchell.

Soon, the murderer is making phone calls to both Clover and Stacy. The next victim will be even harder to find, with the name “Mary Smith.” Eventually, not to spoil the suspense, she turns up with an icepick in her throat and a note announcing another victim to come.

That one is where Clover gets ahead of Stacy — even threatens him not to publish a tip about a third potential victim. However, the program’s writers didn’t pursue the press-police media relations theme any further. Casey, Crime Photographer, Randy Stone on Night Beat, and the real-life reporters on the series The Big Story seem to be even more cooperative with police.  Despite their conflicts, this detective and reporter pair seem to have a continuing — if antagonistic — relationship worthy of following in other episodes. However, so far I haven’t found any.

Classic radio collector J. David Goldin’s Broadway is My Beat RadioGoldindex entry has a short summary on each of 200 episodes, and identifies Morton Fine and David Friedkin as writers for the series. They are also credited at the end of the program. Goldin’s summary for this episode is the only one with the words “newspaper,” “reporter,” “columnist,” “editor,” “correspondent,” “journalist” or “tabloid” — my first search to track down portrayals of journalists for further research. But I’ll listen to more episodes, just in case — and if you enjoy the series and run across any newsmen or women, add a comment here.

The Old Time Radio Researcher’s Group has collected a half-dozen CDs of MP3 files for the series, with 169 stories on its single-episodes player/download page at the Internet Archive. I haven’t cross-referenced them to Goldin’s list, which includes some rebroadcasts of the CBS series by Armed Forces Radio.

(Note: Like too many website entry and MP3-collection filenames, the OTRRG copy of this episode has a misspelling — the name clearly voiced as “Darnell” in the program is entered as “Darwell.”)

Posted in 1940s, detectives, tabloids | 1 Comment

The bloodstained Chicago paper is a clue

Juke Box Melodrama

Newspapers as an “old media” technology survived the 1950s and struggled into the next century, but this May 1951 episode of Night Beat features a rarer form of communication — a coin-op juke box with a live d.j., a cross between a telephone switchboard operator and a radio announcer taking phone-in requests.

This story literally puts Randy Stone on the street, describing in colorful detail the noir sights and sounds of Chicago as he tries to find a story for the column.

(“The brittle laugh of a painted tootsie” is about as graphic as family-friendly fifties radio got about certain aspects of the Chicago night.)
Instead, this time he finds a melodramatic little human drama to share with us, possibly not with his readers in a way that would give away they story’s O. Henry ending to the parties involved — one of whom runs a sidewalk news stand, another disappearing media institution.

He also finds plenty of neon colors, sounds of jazz in the night, and — after a comment about keeping up with the competition — a Chicago Sun Times smeared in blood.

It’s worth a listen.

(In addition to Night Beat regular William Conrad — radio’s “Matt Dillon” and TV’s “Cannon” — the cast includes Betty Lou Gerson, a film, TV and voiceover actress perhaps best known as Cruella De Vil in Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.”)

Posted in Chicago, Drama, reporters | Leave a comment

What a reporter can do…

Clark Kent may have been Superman, but most of his early radio adventures opened with him hard at work as a newspaperman — in this case driving dangerously rain-soaked mountain roads in fog and hail to interview a scientist, on orders from his editor.

His assignment, and the radioplay title:
“Horace Morton’s Weather Predictions”

Kent may motor up the mountain, but in a later episode Superman comes flying down — to tell the police about a murder that he and Lois Lane have discovered, part of a complex tale that also involves kidnapping, a bank robbery, a radium plot, and an ecological disaster.

Lane, a tough veteran reporter critical of her colleague’s sudden stardom in the first weeks of the radio series, seems much friendlier to “Mr. Kent” in this June 1940 story — as the Adventures of Superman began its sixth month of broadcasting.

As they drive, she pleasantly forgives his very corny joke about hoping the rain “keeps up.” (If you don’t remember it from grade school, you will, five minutes into the broadcast.)

There is no conflict between the two, even before he saves her from drowning in a submerged car (in episode four of the six-part adventure). At that dramatic moment the two reporters — possibly a first — call each other by their first names, then quickly return to their more businesslike Mister and Miss.

At least Lois thinks it was Clark who pulled her, unconscious, from the wreck. At this point in the first year of the radio series, Superman is still keeping most of his super-deeds a secret.

Perhaps Lane is a more sympathetic character in this story because she has been placed in a situation that challenges her journalistic ethics: Editor Perry White has ordered Kent and Lane to investigate a relative of hers — her scientist uncle, a meteorologist whose weather predictions appear to be remarkably accurate.

And investigate they do. Early on, Kent even suspects him of that murder! After that, the plot thickens.

Another possibility is that the character of “Miss Lane,” as Kent still calls her, was simply sweetened a bit by the writers to coincide with a change in cast. In the preceding few months, two other actresses voiced the part of Lois Lane. Starting with this story, Jane Alexander took the role — and who would continue in it for a decade.

As a mountainside begins to give way torrential rains, Lois shows that reporters can be compassionate human beings when ordinary folks are in trouble… in this case, as a mountainside slowly collapses, threatening to inundate a village:

Lois: Oh those poor people in the settlement. What will happen to them?

Official: Nothing, if they keep moving…
If they stay where they are, well…

Lois:  Oh, it’s dreadful, Mr. Kent.  Isn’t there anything we can do?

Clark: Well Miss Lane, we are  newspaper people; all we can do is write it up.

Lois: Well I’m going to help them. I don’t care. If you think I’m just going to sit back and write about it, you’re…

She goes off to help people pack and move out of harm’s way, while the script writers put Kent to work in a different way: As Superman, he employs an ethically questionable skill that has tempted some 21st century journalists–a super-hearing ability to eavesdrop on telephone conversations.

Before the end of the six 150-minute episodes, Superman’s greater powers are needed to save the day, literally battling a collapsing mountain. However, he does let slip an admiring comment about his Daily Planet colleague, when she’s not listening. (And in 1940, she probably wouldn’t have taken it as condescending or sexist.)

“Good girl. Plenty of grit.”

Journalistically, however, Kent and Lane head back to Metropolis without their originally assigned story — for reasons explained in the final episode. Dr. Morton decides the world is not ready for the secrets of his weather machine, and his niece and her colleague apparently agree.

Unfortunately, we have no closing scene of their explanation to the editor.

However, one would hope Perry White was satisfied with a few other headlines they brought back — about the foiled bank-robbers and a final banner something like “School Bus Escapes Collapsing Mountain.”

The six episodes are at the Internet Archive’s first page of Superman broadcasts. Here are the remaining five:

This story eventually will be part of JHeroes main Superman page.

Note: Apologies if the first draft of this page had link or layout problems. It was posted from the small screen of a smartphone using Android WordPress and web browser apps.

Additional sources:



Jerry Haendiges log of Superman radio episodes

As noted in the above, there is some uncertainty and inconsistency in the dating and numbering of episodes.

Posted in 1940s, Clark Kent, ethics, Lois Lane, Superman | Leave a comment

Journalism ethics — love, war and flashbulbs

The short-lived 1948 radio series “Shorty Bell” was about a newspaper delivery truck driver who became a reporter, learning mostly from his mistakes, and from a crusty and sardonic editor rumored to have a heart of gold.

This last episode, one of the best remaining in public digital archives, was broadcast just as leading man Mickey Rooney gave up on the series. It hadn’t been able to attract a post-war sponsor despite his pre-war star power.

In this final story, Shorty has company in the learning-of-lessons, a young woman photojournalist who makes her big mistake by trusting Shorty. At the Internet Archive, it’s called Shorty Bell 48-06-26 Shorty Scoops Photographer. The moral:

“The newspaper game is a cutthroat business and the first rule is you’ve got to be sure the throat you cut isn’t your own.” — Shorty Bell

The “portrayals of journalists in popular culture” frequent theme of getting and keeping a newspaper job is well represented in this tale, along with its sexist by today’s standards “battle of the sexes” romance, and a “cutthroat competition between journalists” theme. It’s a reminder that getting a job wasn’t always easy, even in an era when medium size cities had more than one paper.

By the late 1940s, radio listeners and movie-goers were familiar with ethics-free newsroom rivalries, the “anything short of murder” approach reflected in the title card posted at the beginning of “His Girl Friday.”

Like that film, this radioplay has gunfire, some brave-to-reckless crime scene reporting, fast-paced dialogue, the inevitable office romance, and an interesting (but different) take on police-press relations. In many movies, reporters and police are adversaries. On radio, the police are sometimes quite friendly — in this case, getting the reporter and photographer front-row seats at the apprehension of a murderer, then carefully spelling their names for the story and photo captions.

The real adversaries are the reporter, the photographer and their editors. I hope their dirty tricks teach a lesson to journalism students as well as Shorty and his eventual shutterbug love-interest. Coincidentally, she is named “Winnie Lane,” perhaps a cousin or kid sister to Superman’s reporter friend Lois Lane, or to the Shadow’s comrade Margo Lane, who sometimes impersonated a reporter.

(Winnie is definitely younger than Lois, who I’m sure would have knocked Shorty on his ear after his first double-cross. But the unnamed actress playing the young photographer does an excellent job in their verbal fight scenes, some reminiscent of Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday, on film and radio. )

Old time radio collectors assign several titles to this episode, including “Rival Girl Photographer” and “Winnie Lane, Ace Photographer.” Some collections also give the broadcast date as June 27 instead of 26.

There is no question, however, that it was the last story in the series.

As the episode ends, Shorty finally has a page one lead-story byline, and is sent on vacation his editor — after which, stepping out of character, Rooney announces to the studio and broadcast audiences that this has been the last episode and that he will be launching a “brand new show” in the same time slot the next week, as host of “Hollywood Showcase,” a 1948 equivalent of “American Idol.”

While the young reporter’s vacation never ended, my Shorty Bell page has links to a few earlier episodes of the series, preserved in the Old Time Radio Researchers’ collection at the Internet Archive.

Posted in 1940s, ethics, photographer, reporters, romance | Leave a comment

Landing a Newspaper Job; Cameraman Tells All

Some of my favorite “newsroom scenes” in old radio shows involve a young reporter trying to land a job. Here’s the first of a couple of episodes where the job-hunter is a would-be photojournalist.

This 1947 “Crime Photographer” episode put the camera itself in the headline: “The Camera Bug.” It opens with a grumpy Casey trying to warn a young photo supply shop employee away from a photojournalism career, since he already has a wife and a regular job.

He’s “kid” to Casey, although he’s already 21. Their dialogue includes an “all you hear on the radio…” hint that the producers of “Crime Photographer” had feedback from young camera-handlers who wanted a career with as much excitement as Casey’s.

Casey: “My advice is forget it. This is the lousiest game there is. You’re out at all hours. People shove you around. You can risk your hide to get a good shot, then the city desk may stick it on page 10, if it’s used at all. This is a dog’s life, kid; keep out of it…”

The Kid: “Yeah, but you get around. And you see things!”

Casey: “I guess you believe all you hear on the radio. Well, OK camera bug, here’s the only way I know how to break in. You put in about 12 hours a day on the streets, with your eyes open and your camera ready, and occasionally you’ll get a news picture you can sell. If you’re lucky, you may get a real hot shot  you can trade to a city editor for a full-time job. But you’ve got to be lucky. That’s all I can tell you.”

Right after his speech about how demanding news photography can be, Casey heads off to meet his reporter pal Annie for a mid-afternoon beer.

But by the end of the half-hour, the story is about how the young photographer’s skill with depth of focus, a small f-stop and fine grain developer — and Casey’s eye for detail — turn up photographic evidence of yet another murder.

But is it enough to land the kid a job? For that, you’ll have to listen to the story.

(For another approach to landing a newspaper job, see Casey’s own first interview as presented in the film “Here’s Flash Casey.” There’s a clip the top of my Crime Photographer overview page.  The whole movie is downloadable at the Internet Archive. This cinema Flash is based on the same pulp novels as radio’s Casey, but younger and college-educated — not that a diploma is worth much to his 1938 city editor. In fact, part of the romance of landing the job is more about who he runs into on the way to the elevator after getting his first rejection.)

Finally, if you want one more job-hunting scene, check out radio’s best known — if mild-mannered — reporter, Clark Kent, as he convinces the Daily Planet editor to give him a chance. I called this early JHeroes item “Superhero ethics versus reporter ethics.”


Posted in 1940s, Casey, journalism, newspapers, photographer | Leave a comment

Clark Kent’s Nuclear Meltdown

Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent in 1950 film

The 1950 movie Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn) wasn’t faster than a speeding bullet when racing off to investigate the Atom Man in his official Daily Planet press car, but at least he didn’t have to face a radioactive Nazi juggernaut. Radio’s Superman did, five years earlier in an eight-week battle that inspired the movie’s title, but little else.

There isn’t a lot of journalism in the epic 39-part Atom Man vs. Superman radio story, but it did provide a glimpse of employee relations at the Daily Planet — when Clark Kent was twice suspected of having a mental breakdown.

Today, the news industry is conscious that traumatic stress can affect reporters as well as military personal and disaster early-responders. There are innovative programs for helping reporters who cover war zones, mass-murders and other emotionally troubling stories. But the Atom Man story took place long before those innovations.

Atom Man radio plot summary: World War II has just ended, but not all Nazis have given up the cause. A “brilliant, half-mad Nazi scientist” has gotten his hands on some Kryptonite, the recently discovered radioactive mineral from Superman’s home planet. He injects it into a young Nazi true-believer to make him “a creature more deadly than a dozen atom bombs.” Flashing green lightning from his fingertips, this “Atom Man” may be able to destroy Superman “and all of civilization,” or so the announcer frequently reminds us.
The combined story took Superman to Germany and back to Metropolis, fighting Atom Man in two forest-leveling battles. The Internet Archive’s old-time radio collection includes both month-long daily serials, “The Atom Man,” and “Atom Man in Metropolis”, a total of 39 episodes of the 12-minute program. (The “story arcs” also have been edited into single-file versions by a mild-mannered Internet Archive volunteer.)

By featuring a world-threatening super-powered villain, “Atom Man” and “The Atom Man in Metropolis” are more like later Superman movies. The two serials together spanned 39 daily episodes of the “Adventures of Superman” radio series in late 1945 — after Germany’s World War II surrender, but as “one last try” by a deranged Nazi scientist.
While aliens and mad scientists became mainstays of Superman at the movies, the radio serial made more use of the Daily Planet staff to frame newsroom-driven plots. Clark Kent and friends investigated news leads, went to exotic places “on assignment,” solved mysteries, and confronted conspiracies. They didn’t just stand by while Superman took on world-threatening super villains.
But that movie-like plot is what happens in the Atom Man adventures — with the radio narrator and sound-effects staff providing battle scenes far beyond the abilities of 1945 Hollywood films.

However, the Atom Man adventures do offer some insight into life back at the Daily Planet. For example, Kent and Lois Lane obviously have a special relationship with their newspaper. Both rate private offices, rather than desks in the newsroom. Editor Perry White is fiery and stubborn, but tolerant of Kent’s unannounced absences from the newspaper — up to a point. And the reporters take their blustering boss with a grain of salt.

In fact, Lois mentions to a newcomer that White has fired and rehired both her and Clark “at least 15 times in the past year.”

In this story Kent’s unexplained three-day disappearance (to Germany, as Superman) pushes White over the edge — just as a job applicant walks into the office: Henry Miller’s job interview.

The tempermental White hires “Henry Miller” on the spot, and tells him to move right into the absent Kent’s office. The editor isn’t exactly diligent about checking the young man’s references: He takes his word that Miller has worked for papers in Denver and Chicago, and infers from his reference to “I’ve been overseas for a number of years” that he is a returned World War II veteran. White’s assumption, in late 1945, is understandable, along with his response:

“You boys deserve all the breaks… Any man who risked his life fighting for me deserves everything I can give him.” – Perry White to “returned soldier” Henry Miller

Actually, the affable young man who charms both White and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is the story’s Nazi super-villain in disguise, the Atom Man. While he looks like a normal person, his blood has been infused with kryptonite, the alien element lethal to Superman, introduced in a previous radio story.
Miller’s conversation with Jimmy Olsen reveals the young cub’s impression of Kent as a reporter:

Miller: Who is this Kent fellow? What does he do, go on three-day drunks?

Olsen: Are you kidding? Kent wouldn’t touch a drink with a ten-foot pole. He doesn’t smoke either. He’s the best reporter on the paper, the best in the country.

Olsen also introduces Miller to Lois Lane, as “our star girl reporter,” clearly using “girl” in a 1940s manner — Lois was already a veteran reporter when Kent was hired in 1940 at the start of the radio series.

After Kent from overseas to the Daily Planet, just the presence of Miller in the same room leaves the “Man of Steel” weak in the knees and babbling about having been to Germany — seeming irrational to his colleagues, since he has only been gone a few days.

When Kent collapses at his first office meeting with the mild-mannered Miller, Lois Lane is convinced that her old friend is having a nervous breakdown. She makes a single phone call and soon muscular attendants arrive to take Kent away to a “rest farm.” They almost take the spluttering White instead (episode 12).

Kent, recovering his strength and senses, goes along with the orderlies to preserve his secret identity, but quickly escapes the rest farm and flies off to investigate the missing Nazis and try to find a solution to his kryptonite problem.

Eventually, Miller uses Jimmy Olsen to lure Superman into a trap — and an almost fatal battle with the Atom Man. (episode 16, Oct. 31, 1945)

Title screen, Atom Man movie serialThere isn’t much journalism involved, but the episode illustrates the enormous special-effects possibilities of radio: No miniature models or CGI required, just a talented sound-effects person and descriptive writing for the narrative announcer. (For comparison, even five years later the motion picture serial “Atom Man vs. Superman” had to resort to cartoon animation just to make Superman fly, and its “Atom Man” was just Lex Luthor in a glittery helmet, with a lab full of electrical gadgets in place of super powers.)

Although the Atom Man vs. Superman serial-story arc took 16 episodes to get to their first battle, it offered action-radio at its best, with impressive audio effects of massive explosions and electric crackling, a narrator describing the green energy bolts “like devils’ pitchforks,” the villain shouting “Die, Superman!” and Superman’s agonized moans of “No! Stop it! I can’t stand it!” until he was buried deep on a sandy beach.

The battle leaves Superman stripped of his costume and, unrecognized, hospitalized in a coma. As he recovers, he wanders from the hospital in a daze (and in pajamas) until he is given a pair of overalls by a friendly farmer and makes his way back to the Daily Planet. There, editor draws a quick conclusion about his mental state from his mumbled comments like “couldn’t get into the air”:

Perry White: “Kent wouldn’t listen to me and he worried himself into a nervous breakdown.”

Despite his earlier temper tantrum, White concludes the best thing for his star reporter will be to take him to Florida for some rest in the sun, another example of the Daily Planet‘s approach to employee health care without the formalities of a Newspaper Guild contract or a detailed medical plan.

In addition to several MP3 versions at the Internet Archive and elsewhere, the Atom Man stories are available on audio CD, including a library-quality boxed set from RadioSpirits.com (which may already be at your library).

I won’t fill weeks of blogging with all the nuances of “The Atom Man” and “Atom Man in Metropolis,” but they are worth a listen for reasons beyond the few journalism lessons. The sound effects, narrative writing and descriptive announcing for the fight scenes are impressively over-the-top. Also, it’s fascinating to hear how Superman’s script writers handled an “atomic threat” just three months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Protection from radiation? While Kryptonite is described as the world’s most powerful radioactive substance, Clark Kent advises Jimmy Olsen only to handle it with a handkerchief, not his bare hands, to avoid burning himself.

The 1950 movie serial titled “Atom Man vs. Superman” is loosely based on the successful radio adventure, but 1950 was more distant from the Nazi threat of World War II. In the 15 film episodes, Germany was never mentioned. The atomic threat was not from a fantastic Nazi villain turned into a human monster. The villain was just the usual bald mad scientist Lex Luthor, at times disguised in a robe and sparkling “Atom Man” helmet to hide the fact that he was able to teleport himself out of his prison cell. Luthor had no super powers, just “atomic powered” weapons — including his teleportation device, a disintegrating ray and, at the climax of the serial, a missile with a nuclear warhead aimed at Metropolis. Heavily foreshadowing that final development, each week’s opening credits ran over a backdrop of real-life mushroom-clouds — presumably stock footage of government bomb tests.

Lois on camera in movie serial

Lois Lane became a TV person-on-the-street interviewer during the Atom Man movie serial — an ironic sign that radio’s days were numbered, although the Daily Planet’s presses would keep rolling for decades.

The movie serial made one other nod to the threats of new technology: Temporarily free from jail, Luthor starts a TV news station — and hires Lois Lane away from the Daily Planet. Coincidentally, this was just as “The Adventures of Superman” producers were beginning to think about replacing the radio serial with a television series. The radio version shifted formats and networks between 1949 and 1951, then (after one more movie serial and a change of leading men from Kirk Alyn to George Reeves) gave way to Superman’s live-action television adventures from 1952-58.

Posted in 1940s, Clark Kent, editors, Lois Lane, Perry White, reporting, Superman, World War II | Leave a comment