Will police chief trade his badge for a press card?

“I never knew there was so much rottenness and corruption in Monroe until you and Betty and The Trumpet began to dig it up and tried to get rid of it” — police chief.

Ex-Police Chief Henderson Visits,” the seventh episode in our 16-part “Betty and Bob” story, makes it clear what kind of newspaper owners the Drakes are. (As usual, you can fast-forward past the opening two minutes of music — the place-holder for a commercial when this classic 12-minutes-daily series was replayed in syndication in 1947.)

As “editors and publishers of Monroe’s crusading newspaper, The Trumpet,” the announcer tells us, the Drakes didn’t always agree with the chief, but they respected him. Henderson not only helped The Trumpet clean up a gambling racket, he saved Betty’s life once when a gangster was about to kill her.

The chief, who has just quit his job, hops a train to the Drakes’ country home to bring them up to date on troubling developments back in the city during the weeks that Bob has been recovering from that soap-opera cliche, a miracle operation that restored his ability to walk.

Betty tries to convince Bob he needs to rest for a couple more months, but he’s impatient to get back to work. He definitely seems to need his wife’s good-natured teasing to keep his impulsiveness in check. (Husbands in fragile physical or mental health — and wives who pull them through — may have been soap-opera themes that “Betty & Bob” helped pioneer in the 1930s. The “husband-and-wife newspaper publishers” angle during this phase of the serial was something all their own.)

With Henderson’s visit, Bob is energized by the news that both the chief and the city manager were somehow tricked into resigning — possibly by criminal influences on the City Council.

“When you folks left Monroe,” Henderson tells the Drakes, “it was a signal for crime and corruption to move right back in.”

That sets the stage for the next episode. (If you missed the earlier ones, here they are: 6th & 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st.)

In the episode Corruption in City Government,” the chief tells the Drakes the new city manager is a former economics professor who seems easily manipulated. He also has a beautiful, but strangely disturbed, daughter who could bear watching.

The news about the city leadership is enough to convince Bob to announce that he will get back to running the newspaper in person as soon as he is able, completely cancelling the idea of selling the paper. He even orders up a page-one box announcing that “rumors that The Trumpet is for sale are entirely erroneous.”

With Betty insisting that he still needs rest, Bob comes up with a compromise — he offers the former police chief a job as a special investigative reporter and gets right on the phone to the managing editor to tell him the news.

“I’m convinced that something rotten is happening in Monroe,” Bob Drake tells the managing editor. “And I want The Trumpet to bear down and find out what it is and who’s in back of it.”

This is the series’ second anecdote about how someone got their start on a newspaper, a common scene in dramatic portayals of journalists — although few appear to take a standard path to the newsroom. The Drakes’ earlier account described a young reporter who hitchhiked across country when he heard of their plans for a progressive, crusading paper.

“One thing I’ve got to say about the Drakes, when they move, they move awful fast,” Henderson says, after accepting the job offer. The chief admits he is a little bewildered, but pleased and excited:

“Gosh… As a matter of fact, I think I’ll be of even more value working for The Trumpet than I was as chief of police.”

Radio dramas often slipped newspaper reporters into a crime-busting detective role — from “Big Town” to “Crime Photographer,” with the heroes punching more bad guys than typewriter keys — but this is the first case I’ve seen where a police chief joins the newspaper staff, as well as a story where the forces of evil are more subtle and pervasive.

So far, at least, the Drakes and Henderson haven’t hinted at donning green masks or red capes like those other old-time-radio journalist heroes, Britt Reid and Clark Kent.

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 1930s, newspaper crusades, political corruption, publishers, radio, reporters, soap opera. Bookmark the permalink.

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