Publisher dares to report

Britt Reid didn’t follow a traditional publisher’s job description, and I’m not just talking about his moonlighting as a masked crime fighter for more than 1,000 radio episodes in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, each one with a newsboy shouting “Sentinel Extra!” to sum things up at the end (“… Hornet still at large”), and in later years to sell the sponsor’s product, Orange Crush.

Back in the radio days, the “daring young publisher,” as each Green Hornet episode introduced him,   Reid sometimes acted like an editor-in-chief, or took the more hands-on approach of a managing editor. Sometimes he wrote or dictated editorials. In some episodes, he even went out to gather the facts himself — and wound up in great danger as a result. (See JHeroes Hornet overview page.)

Younger listeners should not confuse radio’s Britt Reid with 2011’s Seth Rogen Green Hornet movie, hitting on his secretary or calling her a “hottie.” Radio’s Hornet, written for a juvenile audience, showed no more interest in women than the average Saturday-matinee cowboy hero, which Rogen turned into a running “not gay” joke.
Rogen’s Reid also admits to being a dope about newspapers, and seemed unlikely to have a “second edition” Hollywood sequel. Not so the radio version, whose Britt Reid grew into the job after being given the newspaper by his father. The series had run for a decade when the elder Reid returned to the storyline in the late 1940s, proud of his son’s dual-identity accomplishments. (He also revealed his own secret — that as a lad he had ridden with another masked crime-fighter, his uncle the Lone Ranger, a fun plot link between the two similar adventure series produced at Detroit’s WXYZ.)

For the original Britt Reid, lines also blurred between the publisher and Gunnigan, who was Daily Sentinel city editor in name, but more managing editor in practice. I think Gunnigan was the only other titled Sentinel executive mentioned in the couple of hundred episodes I’ve heard, watched or read. (Newspaper job descriptions are a bit vague in other radio dramatic series, too.)

Sometimes Reid gave reporters news tips or explicit assignments, or gave direct orders to the city editor. At other times he dictated editorials to his secretary. And sometimes he just seemed bored with the place, giving the impression he was simply a playboy who slept late after nights on the town.

Radio fans knew that on his nights out, Reid was more inclined to jump in his supercharged car and fight crime with something punchier than an editorial. Of course that was the underlying theme of the entire series: That Reid had become a vigilante out of frustration with racketeers slipping through loopholes in the legal system.

As the Green Hornet, he pretended to be a crook himself, but used guile, trickery, blackmail, threats or coercion to get the real bad guys to incriminate themselves, while eluding the police himself… and, Robin Hood like, donating bad guys’ loot to charity.

Here’s an example, complete with some of Reid’s reflections on journalism. In this Murder Ring Racket episode, Reid and city editor Gunnigan debate the ethics of their sensation-minded competition, The Clarion, which is hiding an informant to get exclusive stories:

“The Clarion ought to think more of the public and less of yellow journalism,” Reid says. “What they’re doing is against the public interest.”

Later, Reid is on the phone with the Clarion’s publisher, trying to convince him to put the witness in police custody, even offering to give the Clarion an exclusive on the story — another sign that the Sentinel puts human rights and civic duty above the headlines

Reid’s secretary Lenore Case is in the act too — confronted by a hoodlum who mistakes her for someone from the other paper, which has hidden away a witness to get exclusive stories out of him. “The Clarion is a block further down,” she says, and slugs him with her purse, mentioning that she wishes it had a brick in it.

She also winds up helping Sentinel city editor Gunnigan track down a piece of the story when all the reporters are out of the office, and she spots a clue (footprints in the coal dust on a fire escape!) before the editor or the police.

(In the later years of the long-running radio show, the efficient Miss Case not only dabbled in reporting, but also became the Hornet’s confidante, a role that continued into the 1966-67 TV series and 2011 movie… which also made her a 21st century journalism school graduate, sadly settling for a secretarial job.)

The episode is also available at and RadioSpirits. In the broadcast, The Hornet introduces the story with the phrase “Murder Ring Racket,” and the episode is listed as “Crandall and the Murder Ring” with a 1939 date in some MP3 collections. However, the exhaustive 2010 book The Green Hornet by Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson lists the story under the copyright-registration script title, “Murder Seeks Its Victim,” with a June 5, 1940, broadcast date.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in competition, ethics, GreenHornet, j-heroes, newspapers, publishers, radio, sensationalism, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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