The 1940 Superman radio adventure of Professor Thorpe’s Bathysphere begins with Clark Kent being called to editor Perry White’s office to get his new assignment — covering a scientific discovery.
No Earth-destroying calamity is approaching from outer space; no mad scientist is threatening civilization; no shout of “This is a job for… Superman!” sets things in motion. Like many of the early adventures of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, this one begins simply with a reporter going off on assignment.
“Do you know anything about icthyology?” editor Perry White asks Kent, introducing him to a scientist who has invented a new deep-sea exploration bathysphere.
From there, of course, the excitement builds in a hurry. In the first 10 minutes, there’s a mysterious report of a stolen ship, cannon fire, possible piracy, a rescue at sea and a need for that blue-and-red uniform. But I’m always impressed that there’s some “newspaper journalism” getting the ball rolling in these early Superman episodes — more than I remember seeing in Superman movies or comic books as I was growing up.
Yes, it’s a “juvenile adventure” designed to sell breakfast cereal. But that’s part of the reason I’m interested. For young listeners to the 1940-1951 radio series, the message may have been that reporters — not just superheroes — are “the good guys” who meet interesting people, go to exotic places, confront wrong-doers, solve mysteries, and tell the story to the world.
Since I’ve been able to keep up with podcasting “Betty & Bob” soap opera episodes on Wednesdays, I’ve decided to add a real “cereal serial” for the weekend. Originally sponsored by Kelloggs Pep, the official name is The Adventures of Superman. You can follow that link to the Internet Archive page with all the Bathysphere episodes if you’re impatient, or wait for me to add a few comments each weekend. The dozen 15-minute segments, originally broadcast daily, would take most of the semester on a one-a-week basis, so I’ll double up — with one at the top of this page and one at the bottom.
I posted other samples of Daily Planet staff adventures last year, starting with the radio version of Superman’s origin and his first encounter with the very competitive Lois Lane (See Clark, Lois & Perry White Episodes at JHeroes.com), but I haven’t tried a whole continuing story. This Bathysphere tale was originally broadcast in August and September, 1940, about eight months after the start of the series.
The point I want to make is that this early version of Superman used Daily Planet reporters, Clark and Lois, as the center of the adventures. Lois wasn’t always the reporter, or “damsel in distress” either. Clark’s assignments became Superman’s adventures, not the other way around. Being the reporter was the gateway to excitement, “Man of Steel” or not.
In addition, in this episode we learn that The Daily Planet has its own seaplane ready and waiting for its reporters’ adventures… and that Clark can pilot the plane as well as he can fly in blue tights and red cape. Looks like we’ll have to expand the journalism school curriculum again…
The reporter and scientist work together to investigate a mysterious prisoner onboard a stolen ship, a case of impersonation, and a good possibility of piracy. It would help if all reporters had Kent’s super hearing and could twist a steel door off its hinges to get at information. (But would it be ethical?)
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